Pharmacological Approach for Managing Pain in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Review Article

Chen L1, Ilham SJ1, Feng B1. Anesth Pain Med. 2017 Jan 25;7(2):e42747. doi: 10.5812/aapm.42747. eCollection 2017 Apr.
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1 Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06269, USA.


CONTEXT: Visceral pain is a leading symptom for patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that affects 10% - 20 % of the world population. Conventional pharmacological treatments to manage IBS-related visceral pain is unsatisfactory. Recently, medications have emerged to treat IBS patients by targeting the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and peripheral nerves to alleviate visceral pain while avoiding adverse effects on the central nervous system (CNS). Several investigational drugs for IBS also target the periphery with minimal CNS effects.

EVIDENCE OF ACQUISITION: In this paper, reputable internet databases from 1960 - 2016 were searched including Pubmed and ClinicalTrials.org, and 97 original articles analyzed. Search was performed based on the following keywords and combinations: irritable bowel syndrome, clinical trial, pain, visceral pain, narcotics, opioid, chloride channel, neuropathy, primary afferent, intestine, microbiota, gut barrier, inflammation, diarrhea, constipation, serotonin, visceral hypersensitivity, nociceptor, sensitization, hyperalgesia.

RESULTS: Certain conventional pain managing drugs do not effectively improve IBS symptoms, including NSAIDs, acetaminophen, aspirin, and various narcotics. Anxiolytic and antidepressant drugs (Benzodiazepines, TCAs, SSRI and SNRI) can attenuate pain in IBS patients with relevant comorbidities. Clonidine, gabapentin and pregabalin can moderately improve IBS symptoms. Lubiprostone relieves constipation predominant IBS (IBS-C) while loperamide improves diarrhea predominant IBS (IBS-D). Alosetron, granisetron and ondansetron can generally treat pain in IBS-D patients, of which alosetron needs to be used with caution due to cardiovascular toxicity. The optimal drugs for managing pain in IBS-D and IBS-C appear to be eluxadoline and linaclotide, respectively, both of which target peripheral GI tract.

CONCLUSIONS: Conventional pain managing drugs are in general not suitable for treating IBS pain. Medications that target the GI tract and peripheral nerves have better therapeutic profiles by limiting adverse CNS effects.

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