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Mayo Finds Strong Indication of Genetic Link in IBS: A Syndrome Common to a Large Majority of CFS and FM Patients

  [ 594 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ]
By Editor • • June 27, 2006

Note: This article includes our follow-up suggestions regarding its implications for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia patients, and potentially beneficial therapies.

Clinical research reports have indicated that as many as 81 percent of the Fibromyalgia (FM) patients studied and 63 percent of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) patients meet the diagnostic criteria for the digestive system disorder called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The symptoms of IBS include erratic abdominal pain or cramping and changes in bowel function such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.

Now gastroenterologists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, report they’ve found strong indications of a genetic basis for IBS. Fully 70 percent of the 50 diagnosed IBS patients in their study had one or more close family members (parents, siblings, children) with symptoms characteristic of IBS. By contrast, only 43 percent of the 53 subjects in an age-, gender-, and race-matched non-IBS control group had a family member who reported the symptoms.

Besides highlighting the much greater frequency of IBS symptoms among IBS patients’ relatives, the study underscored the importance of gathering data about symptoms directly from the family members.

Asked how many of their surveyed family members had IBS symptoms, the IBS patient group’s estimate amounted to 20 percent (it was actually 46 percent); and the control group’s estimate totaled 4 percent (actually 25 percent).

“Gastrointestinal symptoms are not something many people feel comfortable discussing,” says lead investigator Yuri Saito, MD.

The study report, “Irritable bowel syndrome aggregates strongly in families: A family-based case-control study,” was presented at the recent Digestive Disease WeekR gathering in Los Angeles, attended by more than 16,000 gastrointestinal health professionals. To review an abstract of the presentation, visit

Next Steps: Bigger Study, Gene Analysis

Based on these significant findings, the Mayo researchers’ next step will be a 1,000-family controlled study involving some 5,000 first-degree relatives, to tease out potential genetic/environmental patterns associated with familial (and non-familial) IBS, “and the transmission pattern of IBS through families.”

The ultimate goal: “to identify genetic and non-genetic factors that may be responsible for IBS and predict response to therapy,” says Dr. Saito.

What does this mean for you?

1. Many Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia patients are unaware that they have IBS. Therefore they may belatedly, if ever, seek a diagnosis and therapy for its symptoms.

2. Families in which one member is diagnosed with any of these overlapping syndromes should be alert to the significant possibility that first-degree relatives may experience IBS.

3. The authors’ future work to better understand the role that genes and/or environment play in the development of IBS symptoms and responses to therapy may contribute to identification of more helpful therapies for IBS patients, and shed light on the relationship between IBS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Fibromyalgia. Search the archives for more information on IBS and associated therapies.

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