Functional gastrointestinal disorders: advances in understanding and management

Lancet. 2020 Oct 9;S0140-6736(20)32115-2. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(20)32115-2.Online ahead of print.

Christopher J Black 1, Douglas A Drossman 2, Nicholas J Talley 3, Johannah Ruddy 4, Alexander C Ford 5


Author information

  • 1Leeds Gastroenterology Institute, St James's University Hospital, Leeds, UK; Leeds Institute of Medical Research at St James's, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK.
  • 2Center for Education and Practice of Biopsychosocial Care, Drossman Gastroenterology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA; The Rome Foundation, Raleigh, NC, USA.
  • 3NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Digestive Health, University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia; Hunter Medical Research Institute, Lambton, NSW, Australia.
  • 4The Rome Foundation, Raleigh, NC, USA; Center for Education and Practice of Biopsychosocial Care, DrossmanCare, Durham, NC, USA.
  • 5Leeds Gastroenterology Institute, St James's University Hospital, Leeds, UK; Leeds Institute of Medical Research at St James's, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK. Electronic address: alexf12399@yahoo.com.


Gastrointestinal symptoms are highly prevalent, but many people who have them will have no organic explanation for their symptoms. Most of these people will be labelled as having a functional gastrointestinal disorder, such as irritable bowel syndrome, functional dyspepsia, or functional constipation. These conditions affect up to 40% of people at any one point in time, and two-thirds of these people will have chronic, fluctuating symptoms. The pathophysiology of functional gastrointestinal disorders is complex, but involves bidirectional dysregulation of gut-brain interaction (via the gut-brain axis), as well as microbial dysbiosis within the gut, altered mucosal immune function, visceral hypersensitivity, and abnormal gastrointestinal motility. Hence, nomenclature refers to the conditions as disorders of gut-brain interaction. Psychological comorbidity is common; however, whether or not this predates, or is driven by, symptoms is not clear. Patients with functional gastrointestinal disorders can feel stigmatised, and often this diagnosis is not communicated effectively by physicians, nor is education provided. Prompt identification and treatment of these conditions is crucial as they have a considerable impact on health-care systems and society as a whole because of repeated consultations, unnecessary investigations and surgeries, prescriptions and over-the-counter medicine use, and impaired health-related quality of life and ability to work. Symptom-based criteria are used to make a diagnosis, with judicious use of limited investigations in some patients. The general principles of treatment are based on a biopsychosocial understanding and involve management of physical symptoms and, if present, psychological comorbidity. In the future, treatment approaches to functional gastrointestinal disorders are likely to become more personalised, based not only on symptoms but also underlying pathophysiology and psychology.

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