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Digestion. 2010;82(4):201-10. doi: 10.1159/000269822. Epub 2010 Jun 24.

Psychosocial factors, psychiatric illness and functional gastrointestinal disorders: a historical perspective.

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University Psychiatric Centre, University Hospital Gasthuisberg, Leuven, Belgium.


A new classification of functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID) became available recently, based on consensus in expert committees ('Rome III process'). It is widely accepted that these frequent disorders, although their pathophysiology remains incompletely understood, result from a complex reciprocal interaction between biological, psychological and social factors that can be predisposing, precipitating and/or perpetuating. Comorbidity with psychiatric disorders, especially mood and anxiety disorders, is high. Modern epidemiologic, psychophysiological and functional neuroimaging studies have partially elucidated the mechanisms underlying the relation between cognitive-affective processes on the one hand and GI function and symptom reporting on the other. The aim of this article is to provide a noncomprehensive historical review of the literature on FGID up to the mid-20th century, with special emphasis on the role of psychosocial factors and psychiatric comorbidity. We can conclude from this review that a lot of the knowledge that became available recently through modern research methodology can also be found in the historical psychosomatic and neuroscience literature, though obviously less empirically grounded. This provides further support for an integrative, multidisciplinary biopsychosocial approach to FGID.

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