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New research shows brain responses could explain gender differences in gut perception

Speaking at the British Society of Gastroenterology's Annual Meeting in Birmingham, Professor Aziz's group today presents new brain images indicating females process pain in the brain differently to males, a finding which may shed some light on gender differences seen in pain reporting in chronic pain conditions such as functional gastrointestinal disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Professor Aziz's team studied brain activity and reactions to pain of both males and females and found that during the anticipation of pain, females in comparison to males showed less brain activity in areas that process fear in favour of greater activity in areas involved in preparing and planning movements to avoid the impending painful event. In contrast, during pain the opposite response was seen with males showing greater activity in brain areas involved pain avoidance while females showed greater activity in areas involved in processing emotions.

Professor Aziz says:

"The fact that during pain our female subjects showed more activation of the emotion processing areas in the brain could suggest a mechanism whereby females may attribute more emotional importance to painful stimuli which may influence how they perceive, report and respond to pain in comparison to males. Further research is now required to assess the clinical importance of these findings and to determine if brain imaging studies can help to guide therapy."

Professor Jon Rhodes, President of the British Society of Gastroenterology says:

"This is a fascinating study that uses the latest non-invasive technology to assess how the brain works. It gives new insight into the mechanisms that underlie functional abdominal pain due to conditions such as irritable bowel that cause great nuisance and distress to so many people. There is a good chance that it will lead to development of new treatment strategies."

Approximately 20% of people in the UK have functional gastrointestinal disorders such as functional dyspepsia and irritable bowel syndrome. Functional gastrointestinal disorders are characterised by persisting gastrointestinal symptoms such as pain and bloating and are more common in females.

NOTES

The British Society of Gastroenterology's Annual meeting will be taking place 14-17th March, International Convention Centre, Birmingham.

The British Society of Gastroenterology is an organisation focused on the promotion of high standards for clinical services, research, training and education in gastroenterology and hepatology within the UK. It has over three thousand members drawn from the ranks of physicians, surgeons, pathologists, radiologists, scientists, nurses, dietitians, and others interested in the field. Founded in 1937 it has grown from a club to be a major force in British medicine.

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