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Chin J Dig Dis. 2005;6(3):122-32.

Irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease: interrelated diseases?

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Department of Medicine, National University of Ireland, Cork, Ireland. e.quigley@ucc.i.e


In the past inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) were regarded as completely separate disorders. Now, with the description of inflammation, albeit low-grade, in IBS, and of symptom overlap between IBS and celiac disease, this contention has come under question. Is there true overlap between these disorders? Despite the limitations of available data one cannot but be struck by some areas of apparent convergence: IBD and celiac disease in remission, lymphocytic colitis and microscopic inflammation in IBS, in general, and, especially, in the post-infectious IBS category. The convergence between latent celiac disease and sub-clinical IBD, on the one hand, and IBS, on the other, appears, based on available evidence, to be somewhat spurious and may largely relate to misdiagnosis, a phenomenon which may also explain the apparent evolution of IBS into IBD in some studies. Similarities between IBS and lymphocytic colitis are more striking and less readily dismissed; as for IBS, well documented instances of progression of lymphocytic colitis to full-blown IBD are infrequent, suggesting a true separation between this disorder and classical IBD. Do IBS and lymphocytic colitis represent different responses to similar triggers? Will some of the 'inflamed' IBS subgroup be reclassified as part of the spectrum of lymphocytic colitis in the future? Will inflammation emerge as a common underlying factor in the pathogenesis of IBS? The answer to these and many questions must await further study of this fascinating area.

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