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J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2016 Jan 31;22(1):102-11. doi: 10.5056/jnm15067.

Balance of Autonomic Nervous System Predicts Who Benefits from a Self-management Intervention Program for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

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Department of Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Systems, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.
Deptartment of Biostatistics and Office for Nursing Research, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.
Center for Neurovisceral Sciences & Women's Health, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA.
Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA.
Department of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.



To determine if potential biomarkers can be used to identify subgroups of people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) who will benefit the most or the least from a comprehensive self-management (CSM) intervention.


In a two-armed randomized controlled trial a CSM (n = 46) was compared to a usual care (n = 46) group with follow-up at 3 and 6 months post randomization. Biomarkers obtained at baseline included heart rate variability, salivary cortisol, interleukin-10 produced by unstimulated peripheral blood mononuclear cells, and lactulose/mannitol ratio. Linear mixed models were used to test whether these biomarkers predicted improvements in the primary outcomes including daily abdominal pain, Gastrointestinal Symptom score and IBS-specific quality of life.


The nurse-delivered 8-session CSM intervention is more effective than usual care in reducing abdominal pain, reducing Gastrointestinal Symptom score, and enhancing quality of life. Participants with lower nighttime high frequency heart rate variability (vagal modulation) and increased low frequency/high frequency ratio (sympathovagal balance) had less benefit from CSM on abdominal pain. Salivary cortisol, IL-10, and lactulose/mannitol ratio were not statistically significant in predicting CSM benefit. Baseline symptom severity interacts with treatment, namely the benefit of CSM is greater in those with higher baseline symptoms.


Cognitively-focused therapies may be less effective in reducing abdominal pain in IBS patients with higher sympathetic tone. Whether this a centrally-mediated patient characteristic or related to heightened arousal remains to be determined.


Autonomic nervous system; Interleukin 10; Irritable bowel syndrome; Permeability

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