Nov. 10, 2004 ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Mayo Clinic researchers have found evidence to suggest a common genetic link between irritable bowel syndrome, alcoholism and mental illness. The results of this study are being presented on Monday at the 69th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) in Orlando, Fla.
In previous work, this research team found that IBS runs in families. Alcoholism and mental illness run in families as well. The team was interested in knowing if alcoholism and mental illness were more common in family members of people who have IBS. G. Richard Locke, M.D., senior author of the research and a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist, says the findings point researchers closer to finding a specific therapy to help families who have these conditions. IBS is estimated to be present in 10 to 20 percent of the general population, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. MayoClinic.com reports that IBS typically begins around age 20. Overall, two to three times as many women as men have the condition.
“This work confirms what doctors see every day in our patients,” says Dr. Locke. “People who have IBS often have mental illness and alcoholism in their families.”
Specifically, the Mayo Clinic researchers found that people who have IBS but who do not drink are more likely to have a family history of alcoholism or mental illness. “Our thinking is that there is a common gene that can manifest itself as IBS, alcoholism or mental illness in a family member, so a person who chooses not to drink is more likely to have IBS,” says Dr. Locke.
Others who conducted research from Mayo Clinic in Rochester are: James Knight, Alan Zinsmeister, Ph.D., Cathy Schleck, and Nicholas Talley, M.D.
A gastrointestinal symptom survey was mailed to a group of Olmsted County (Minn.) residents who had been randomly selected and responded to a similar symptom survey in the past. Survey responses were used to identify people who have IBS (cases) and healthy controls for this study. The electronic medical record was reviewed to record the subjects’ self-reported personal and family health histories. In the study, 2,457 people responded to the questionnaire. The researchers found IBS reported in 13 percent of the respondents. In the analysis, the cases had a mean age of 62 years and 70 percent were female in the IBS group, while the group it was compared with had a mean age of 61 years and 64 percent were female.
MayoClinic.com notes that IBS is characterized by abdominal pain or cramping and changes in bowel function, including bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation -- problems most people don't like to discuss. Up to one in five American adults has irritable bowel syndrome. The disorder accounts for more than one of every 10 doctor visits. For most people, signs and symptoms of irritable bowel disease are mild. Only a small percentage of people who have IBS have severe signs and symptoms.
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