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Summary

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional, multifactorial disease characterized by abdominal pain and erratic bowel habit. Changes in gastrointestinal motor function, enhanced perception of stimuli arising from the gut wall and psychosocial factors are thought to be major contributors for symptom generation. In recent years, several additional factors have been identified and postulated to interact with these classical mechanisms. Reduced ability to expel intestinal gas with consequent gas trapping and bowel distension may contribute to abdominal discomfort/pain and bloating. Abnormal activation of certain brain regions following painful stimulation of the rectum suggests altered processing of afferent signals. An acute gastrointestinal infection is now a recognized aetiological factor for symptom development in a subset of IBS patients (i.e. post-infectious IBS), who are probably unable to down-regulate the initial inflammatory stimulus efficiently. Furthermore, low-grade inflammatory infiltration and activation of mast cells in proximity to nerves in the colonic mucosa may also participate in the frequency and severity of perceived abdominal pain in post-infectious and non-specific IBS. Initial evidence suggests the existence of changes in gut microflora, serotonin metabolism and a genetic contribution in IBS pathophysiology. These novel mechanisms may aid a better understanding of the complex pathophysiology of IBS and to develop new therapies.