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Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2005 Mar 15;21(6):633-51.

Review article: drugs interfering with visceral sensitivity for the treatment of functional gastrointestinal disorders--the clinical evidence.

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Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Academic Medical Centre, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


At present, the concept of visceral hypersensitivity provides the leading hypothesis regarding the generation of symptoms in functional gastrointestinal disorders. This paper discusses the current clinical evidence for drugs that have been proposed to interfere with visceral sensitivity in functional gastrointestinal disorders. Several possible pharmacological targets have been identified to reduce visceral pain and to reverse the processes underlying the persistence of visceral hypersensitivity. However, most of the available evidence comes from experimental animal models and cannot simply be extrapolated to patients with functional gastrointestinal disorders. In this review, we selected five drug classes that have been shown to exhibit visceral analgesic properties in experimental studies, and of which data were available regarding their clinical efficacy. These included opioid substances, serotonergic agents, antidepressants, somatostatin analogues and alpha(2)-adrenergic agonists. Although clinical trials show a limited benefit, in particular for serotonergic agents, the evidence illustrating that these effects result from normalization of visceral sensation is currently lacking. Therefore, we conclude that the concept of targeting visceral hypersensitivity as a treatment for functional gastrointestinal disorders is still controversial. Future evaluations require patient selection based on the presence of visceral hypersensitivity and application of compounds that exhibit 'true' viscerosensory effects.

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