In a recent study, conducted by researchers from KU Leuven, Belgium, the cause of abdominal pain in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) has been identified. This has thrown new light on the treatment of this condition. A drug hitherto used to treat hay fever has been selected to treat the condition based on this new causative factor, and the disease is responding positively to the new line of treatment.
The most common complaint by IBS patients is that their bowels are extremely sensitive and have a low pain threshold. To give you an example, this is just like how our skin is super-sensitive to hot water after sunburn. Till now nobody new what the cause for the extra sensitivity was. It was common knowledge among the medical community that the bowels of IBS patients had larger quantities of histamine, but that was it. The specific link with hypersensitivity was still an enigma.
But now a research team led by Prof. Guy Boeckxstaens, who is professor of gastroenterology at a KU Leuven, have now shown that (1) histamine has an impact on the pain receptor TRPV1 and (2) The histamine released in the gut of IBS patients makes TRPV1 hypersensitive. The researchers discovered that IBS histamine interferes with the histamine 1 receptor, which is located on nerves that contain TRPV1.
More importantly, they discovered that by blocking the histamine 1 receptor, they could prevent the sensitizing effect of histamine on TRPV1. All these findings help identify the real reason behind the increased pain perception of IBS patients.
Now that the cause of the hypersensitivity in IBS patients was clearly determined, the researchers’ next step was to figure out a solution to the problem. They designed a novel clinical study in IBS patients to evaluate the effect of ebastine, a substance that blocks the histamine 1 receptor on the nerves. Ebastine, as some of you might already know is commonly used in the treatment of hay fever.
The team was thrilled to find that in a study against a control group, patients who took a 12 week course of ebastine had significantly less abdominal pain than patients from the control group. The next step is a follow-up study where researchers will test the effect of ebastine on a larger group consisting of 200 IBS patients.
Currently Irritable bowel syndrome affects 10-15% of the population. The current mode of treatment/management is to bring the defecation pattern to as close to normal as possible. The team is hopeful that their study will improve the prognosis of this irritating condition and take it to the next level.