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Gut. 1999 March; 44(3): 400–406.
PMCID: PMC1727402

The role of psychological and biological factors in postinfective gut dysfunction


BACKGROUND—Both psychological and physiological disturbances have been implicated in the aetiopathogenesis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
AIMS—To investigate how the psychological factors act, and the involvement of infective and physiological factors.
METHODS—Consecutive patients hospitalised for gastroenteritis reported life events for the previous 12 months, and past illness experiences on standardised questionnaires. They also completed psychometric questionnaires for anxiety, neuroticism, somatisation, and hypochondriasis. In some patients, rectal biopsy specimens were obtained during the acute illness and at three months postinfection.
RESULTS—Ninety four patients completed all questionnaires: 22 patients were diagnosed with IBS after their gastroenteritis (IBS+), and 72 patients returned to normal bowel habits (IBS−). IBS+ patients reported more life events and had higher hypochondriasis scores than IBS− patients. The predictive value of the life event and hypochondriasis measures was highly significant and independent of anxiety, neuroticism, and somatisation scores, which were also elevated in IBS+ patients. Rectal biopsy specimens from 29 patients showed a chronic inflammatory response in both IBS+ and IBS− patients. Three months later, specimens from IBS+ patients continued to show increased chronic inflammatory cell counts but those from IBS− patients had returned to normal levels. IBS+ and IBS− patients exhibited rectal hypersensitivity and hyper-reactivity and rapid colonic transit compared with normal controls, but there were no significant differences between IBS+ and IBS− patients for these physiological measurements.
CONCLUSION—Psychological factors most clearly predict the development of IBS symptoms after gastroenteritis but biological mechanisms also contribute towards the expression of symptoms.

Keywords: irritable bowel syndrome; gastroenteritis; chronic inflammation; rectal sensitivity; intestinal transit; psychosomatic

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