Irritable bowel syndrome: methods, mechanisms, and pathophysiology. Methods to assess visceral hypersensitivity in irritable bowel syndrome.

D. Keszthelyi*, F.J. Troost, A.A.M. Masclee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

90 Citations (Web of Science)


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common functional gastrointestinal disorder, characterized by recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort in combination with disturbed bowel habits in the absence of identifiable organic cause. Visceral hypersensitivity has emerged as a key hypothesis in explaining the painful symptoms in IBS, and has been proposed as a 'biological hallmark' for the condition. Current techniques of assessing visceral perception include the computerized barostat using rectal distensions, registering responses induced by sensory stimuli including the flexor reflex and cerebral evoked potentials, as well as brain imaging modalities such as functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography. These methods have provided further insight into alterations in pain processing in IBS, although the most optimal method and condition remain to be established. In an attempt to give an overview of these methods, a literature search in the electronic databases Pubmed and MEDLINE was executed using the search terms 'assessment of visceral pain/visceral nociception/visceral hypersensitivity,' 'irritable bowel syndrome.' Both original articles and review articles were considered for data extraction. This review aims to discuss currently used modalities in assessing visceral perception, along with advantages and limitations, and aims also to define future directions for methodological aspects in visceral pain research. Although novel paradigms such as brain imaging and neurophysiological recordings have been introduced in the study of visceral pain, confirmative studies are warranted to establish their robustness and clinical relevance. Therefore, subjective verbal reporting following rectal distension currently remains the best-validated technique in assessing visceral perception in IBS.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)G141-G154
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012

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