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J Clin Gastroenterol. 2005 May-Jun;39(5 Suppl 3):S251-6.

What does the future hold for irritable bowel syndrome and the functional gastrointestinal disorders?

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7080, USA.


Our understanding of irritable bowel syndrome and the functional GI disorders has grown considerably over the last 15 years. In part this relates changes in their classification and definition from being due solely to motility disturbances, to being symptom based (eg, Rome criteria). This opened the door to the study of many other factors that contribute to the clinical expression of these disorders, including visceral hypersensitivity, sensitization, altered mucosal immunity, and dysfunction in brain-gut regulatory processes. New knowledge has been gained in areas of genetics, central nervous system and enteric nervous system neurotransmitters of motility, sensitivity and secretion, the effect of altered mucosal inflammation on cytokine and paracrine activation, and neural sensitization, postinfectious disorders, the influence of psychologic stress on gut functioning via alterations in regulatory pathways (eg, hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis, or pain regulatory system like the cingulate cortex), improved accuracy of diagnosis using Rome II criteria plus "red flags" the institution of behavioral treatments, and the use of new pharmacologic treatments both at the gut and brain level. Future research will improve upon this new knowledge via basic and translational studies of neuropeptide signaling with new neurotransmitters, new knowledge on the mechanisms for central nervous system-enteric nervous system communication and dysfunction, and more advanced clinical research on education, communication skills and their effects on outcome, genetics, pharmacogenetics and genetic epidemiology, better understanding as to how certain psychosocial domains (eg, catastrophizing, abuse) affect symptom behavior and outcome, newer pharmacologic treatments, and the use of combined pharmacologic and behavioral treatment packages. I am pleased to have the opportunity to provide a personal perspective on what the future will be for irritable bowel syndrome and the other functional GI disorders. Having been involved in this field for almost 30 years, I have been fortunate to witness tremendous changes. The focus of this presentation is to address the advances that have recently occurred that set the stage for proposing future research to help move the field along and ultimately to help our patients.

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