Thermal hypersensitivity in a subset of irritable bowel syndrome patients

Qi Qi Zhou, Roger B. Fillingim, Joseph L. Riley, G. Nicholas Verne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Aim: To characterize thermal hypersensitivity in patients with constipation- and diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Methods: Thermal pain sensitivity was tested among patients with diarrhea-predominant IBS (D-IBS) and constipation-predominant IBS (C-IBS) compared to healthy subjects. A total of 42 patients (29 female and 13 male; mean age 27.0 ± 6.4 years) with D-IBS; 24 patients (16 female and eight male; mean age 32.5 ± 8.8 years) with C-IBS; and 52 control subjects (34 female and 18 male; mean age 27.3 ± 8.0 years) participated in the study. Thermal stimuli were delivered using a Medoc Thermal Sensory Analyzer with a 3 cm × 3 cm surface area. Heat pain threshold (HPTh) and heat pain tolerance (HPTo) were assessed on the left ventral forearm and left calf using an ascending method of limits. The Functional Bowel Disease Severity Index (FBDSI) was also obtained for all subjects. Results: Controls were less sensitive than C-IBS and D-IBS (both at P < 0.001) with no differences between C-IBS and D-IBS for HPTh and HPTo. Thermal hyperalgesia was present in both groups of IBS patients relative to controls, with IBS patients reporting significantly lower pain threshold and pain tolerance at both test sites. Cluster analysis revealed the presence of subgroups of IBS patients based on thermal hyperalgesia. One cluster (17% of the sample) showed a profile of heat pain sensitivity very similar to that of healthy controls; a second cluster (47% of the sample) showed moderate heat pain sensitivity; and a third cluster (36% of the sample) showed a very high degree of thermal hyperalgesia. Conclusion: A subset of IBS patients had thermal hypersensitivity compared to controls, who reported significantly lower HPTh and HPTo. All IBS patients had a higher score on the FBDSI than controls. Interestingly, the subset of IBS patients with high thermal sensitivity (36%) had the highest FBDSI score compared to the other two groups of IBS patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3254-3260
Number of pages7
JournalWorld journal of gastroenterology
Issue number26
StatePublished - Jul 14 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Heat pain threshold
  • Heat pain tolerance
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Thermal hypersensitivity
  • Visceral pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gastroenterology


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