Objectives: There are few data on the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in individuals with chronic GI symptoms. The current study was designed to describe and compare urine catecholamine (norepinephrine, epinephrine) and cortisol levels in women diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-patients), women who report similar symptom levels but had not sought health care services (IBS-nonpatients; IBS-NP), and asymptomatic (control) women.
Methods: Seventy-three women (24 IBS; 24 IBS-NP; 25 controls) were interviewed for demographic, GI, gynecological, and psychological data and then followed for two menstrual cycles with a daily health diary. Urine samples were obtained in the evening and morning at specific phases across two menstrual cycles.
Results: Women in the IBS group had significantly higher PM and AM urine norepinephrine levels. Urine epinephrine and cortisol levels were also generally higher in women with IBS. Differences in neuroendocrine indicators of arousal were not accounted for by differences in demographic variables, lifestyle characteristics, menstrual distress, or average daily measures of anxiety or depression.
Conclusions: Increases in indicators of sympathetic nervous system activation in women seeking health care for IBS may reflect greater symptom distress or may contribute to increased symptom distress.