New research out suggests that women who suffer from IBS have different pain responses that make them more vulnerable to intestinal pain.
That is the finding of researchers who exposed women with and without the syndrome to mildly painful stimuli and then watched how their brains responded using a functional MRI machine. The study appeared Jan. 9 in The Journal of Neuroscience.
The researchers focused on the brain's ability to tamp down its response to pain if it knows that it is coming and that it will not be too severe. (It also does this if the pain will bring about a benefit, such as the removal of a splinter.)
When women without irritable bowel syndrome were about to be given the pain stimuli after a warning, their MRIs showed their brains stepping down the brain response. But the women with the condition appeared unable to do so.
I think that this can be true, but I don't believe that it's a cause we're looking at, it's an effect. When you live with chronic illness your response to pain is much more ingrained and reflexive. When you don't suffer from a chronic illness, your body doesn't tense up at the warning of pain in the same way.
At least the study did not make assumptions about the severity of the pain IBS sufferers endure.
The finding suggests that people with the syndrome may suffer in part because they handle pain differently.
"That does not mean the pain is less real," the lead author of the study, Steven Berman of the University of California , Los Angeles , wrote in an e-mail message.
No, it does not mean the pain is less real--the response to it is something that is adapted over time. We are born with very few things and I don't think a set pain-response mechanism is one of them. It's the same way someone who is physically or mentally abused reacts differently to verbal or physical assault than someone who has not been subjected to such abuse.