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Keywords:

  • autonomic nervous system;
  • constipation;
  • diarrhea;
  • heart rate variability;
  • irritable bowel syndrome;
  • pain

Abstract  This study examined heart rate variability (HRV) in women with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to determine its association with gut pain and predominant bowel pattern. Women with IBS (constipation predominant n = 45, diarrhoea predominant n = 64, alternating n = 56) and healthy controls (n = 50) were recruited from the community. Severity of gut pain was measured retrospectively. The HRV (24 h) was summarized as high-frequency (HF) power and the ratio of low-frequency (LF) power to HF power. Among those women with IBS who have severe gut pain, the 15 constipation-predominant women had lower (P = 0.01) HF power and higher (P = 0.003) LF/HF ratio (geometric means 70 and 7.5, respectively) than the 21 women with diarrhoea-predominant IBS (286 and 3.1) and controls (224 and 3.9). In contrast, among women without severe pain, there is a smaller and not quite significant difference in the opposite direction. Using a broader definition of pain severity based on several questions nearly doubles the number of subjects in the severe pain group and shows even more significant results. The relationship of predominant bowel pattern to HRV is qualitatively different in the subgroup of patients with more severe pain than in the subgroup with less severe pain.