Background & aims: Only a fraction of patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) show hypersensitivity to rectal distention. The current study sought to determine if repetitive high-pressure stimulation of sigmoid mechanoreceptors modulates perception of rectal pain and discomfort.
Methods: In 14 patients with IBS and 11 healthy controls, perception thresholds for discomfort and pain during rectal sensory tracking and verbal descriptor ratings of the perceived intensity of a rectal tonic stimulus were obtained before and after repetitive high-pressure mechanical sigmoid stimulation. Gastrointestinal and psychological symptoms were assessed by questionnaires.
Results: Despite heterogeneity in baseline rectal sensitivity in patients with IBS, after sigmoid stimulation, 100% of patients, regardless of baseline sensitivity, developed rectal hyperalgesia manifested by at least two of the following three criteria: lowered thresholds for pain and discomfort and increased viscerosomatic referral and lower abdominal discomfort outlasting the experimental stimulation. This pattern of responses was not observed in any of the healthy controls.
Conclusions: In patients with IBS, repetitive stimulation of sigmoid splanchnic afferents results in the development of central sensitization manifested as hyperalgesia and increased viscerosomatic referral during rectal distention and as spontaneous rectosigmoid hyperalgesia in the absence of applied stimuli. Repetitive sigmoid contractions may induce rectosigmoid hyperalgesia in patients with IBS.