Abstract

What Causes Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders? A Proposed Disease Model

Talley NJ1. Am J Gastroenterol. 2020 Jan;115(1):41-48. doi: 10.14309/ajg.0000000000000485.

 
     

Author information

1 Faculty of Health and Medicine, University of Newcastle, Hunter Medical Research Institute, NSW Australia.

Abstract

Chronic unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms impact more than 1 in 5 Americans and their families; these disorders include the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional dyspepsia (FD), currently classified by Rome IV as functional gastrointestinal disorders. By definition, IBS and FD have no established pathology, but emerging evidence suggests this paradigm may need revision. Immune activation and, in subsets, subtle intestinal pathology have been identified in FD (most notably, postprandial distress syndrome) and IBS-diarrhea. A disease model is proposed that accounts for all of the intestinal and extraintestinal symptoms, relationship to food and infection, and the overlap with gastroesophageal reflux disease. It is speculated that antigen presentation to the mucosa (e.g., microbial antigens or food proteins after acute gastroenteritis) induces, in a genetically primed host, immune activation of the intestine with low-grade intestinal inflammation and subsequently neuronal structural and functional alterations, producing regional intestinal hypersensitivity and motor dysfunction. Immune activation may explain the female predominance and fluctuations in immune activity for symptom variability over time. In the future, as further evidence accumulates, the management paradigm may potentially shift to objective pathology-based subtyping based on serological, microbiological, and clinical assessments to identify when targeted therapies should be deployed in subsets. Potential targeted interventions may include therapies to dampen down immune activation or block release of key mediators such as histamine, specific microbial targeted treatments that may reverse disease, and dietary advice to eliminate relevant food antigens after objective in vivo testing. Only by identifying causation can we eventually anticipate cure, and as the true pathology unravels in subsets, this may become a reality.

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