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IBS is an Umbrella Term that Encompasses Several Diseases

Researchers at the University of Newcastle in Australia have published a review that provides a new understanding of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and are urging physicians to view IBS as an umbrella term that encompasses several different diseases. This new perspective could explain some of the differences among people with IBS, and a better understanding of the underlying disease in an individual could lead to more effective, personalized treatment.

Professor Nick Talley, Director of the Priority Research Centre for Digestive Health and Neurogastroenterology, leads a team of researchers who are studying gut health. Professor Talley admits IBS is “an incredibly complex condition which differs with each case,” and he urges doctors to not see all their patients with IBS as having the same disorder.1

IBS: Many different causes

IBS is a condition that is characterized by abdominal pain and a disturbed bowel habit (either constipation, diarrhea, or a mix of both). The research team has identified various causes of IBS, including:

The link between IBS and mental health

There is a known link between IBS and mental health disorders, particularly depression and anxiety, which are seen in higher numbers in people with IBS than in the general population. However, it isn’t clear which came first: the IBS or the mental health disorder.

Professor Talley is world-renowned for his research in identifying the pathways between the brain-gut as well as the gut-brain. The effects of the brain on the gut are more widely accepted and understood than the effects of the gut on the brain. Talley and his research team have identified that in some people, the gut gets sick first and sends signals up to the brain, causing anxiety. This understanding could lead to future management that treats the cause, like inflammation in the gut, and has potential benefits on mental health as well.1,2

Research continues

While the reframing of the idea of IBS as multiple health conditions is a step in the right direction, additional research is needed to fully understand all the various causes and the best way to treat each one. Still, Professor Talley is optimistic: “We’re working towards a goal of being able to totally cure the condition rather than just treat the symptoms.”1

  1. The University of Newcastle. Accessed online on 7/24/17 at https://www.newcastle.edu.au/newsroom/featured-news/stomaching-the-change-to-our-understanding-of-ibs
  2. ABC News Australia. Accessed online on 7/24/17 at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-13/irritable-bowel-syndrome-breakthroughs-find-many-gut-conditions/8705092

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