What is irritable bowel syndrome?
The condition is defined as abdominal pain where there is no organic cause. And so they’re actually potpourri, a bit of anything and everything. In addition to bloating, patients experience flatulence and fatigue. The abdomen also often swells, which is very unpleasant in women. It looks like they are three months pregnant. About 20 percent of the world’s population suffers from irritable bowel syndrome.
How is the syndrome diagnosed?
‘It’s not easy.’ If patients experience abdominal pain, they go to their primary care physician or gastroenterologist. If he does not notice any physiological problems, he or she sends the patient home with the diagnosis that everything is on his mind. However, the complaints are comparable with those with diabetes. Thus, irritable bowel syndrome is a condition that is greatly underestimated. Over time, patients are afraid to talk about their complaints.
Your research group has discovered a mechanism that causes this condition.
We want to find out why patients experience abnormal gut pain. We previously noted that the pain comes from a hypersensitivity to food. Another reason is the buildup of gas and stool. Gut bacteria ferment part of our food. This releases gas and can lead to painful stimuli. An adequate diet can relieve pain, but this does not solve hypersensitivity.
We examined neurons from the gut under a microscope. We found that patients’ neurons react more strongly to substances we associate with pain sensations. Then we associated certain foods with activation of a specific group of cells. These are the so-called mast cells. They release histamine, which is an important part of the immune system. When we treat patients with antihistamines (Factors that inhibit allergic reactions, editor)Their pain eased.
How does the syndrome arise then?
For many patients, the first symptoms appear after a gastrointestinal infection. We were able to confirm this link thanks to research in mice. We gave the mice gastroenteritis and gave them ovalbumin at the same time. This protein is found in eggs and is often used to provoke an immune response. Once the infection was cleared, the mice were given ovals again. It was now found that they had an allergic reaction to albumin ovale, whereas before infection this was not the case. Apparently, the infection can make the immune system more sensitive to the food that was in the intestine during the infection.
Do you want to know more about irritable bowel syndrome? Listen to this episode of our podcast Ask him.
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