Intestinal perception: Mechanisms and assessment

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Physiological stimuli in the gut induce regulatory reflexes to accomplish the digestive process, but are normally not perceived. However, under some circumstances, gut stimuli may activate perception pathways and induce conscious sensations. Experimental evidence gathered during the past decade suggests that patients with functional gut disorders and unexplained abdominal symptoms may have a sensory dysfunction of the gut, so that physiological stimuli would induce symptoms. Assessment of visceral sensitivity is still poorly developed, but in analogy to somatosensory testing, differential stimulation of visceral afferents may be achieved by a combination of stimulation techniques, which may help to characterize sensory dysfunctions. Visceral afferent input is modulated by a series of mechanisms at different levels of the brain-gut axis, and conceivably, a dysfunction of these regulatory mechanisms could cause hyperalgesia. The sensory dysfunction in functional patients seems to be associated with altered reflex activity, and both mechanisms may interact to produce the symptoms. Evidence of a gut sensory-reflex dysfunction as a common pathophysiological mechanism in different functional gastrointestinal disorders would suggest that they are different forms of the same process, and that the clinical manifestations depend on the specific pathways affected. © The Author 2005.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Nutrition
Issue numberSUPP
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2005


  • Functional gut disorders
  • Gut reflexes
  • Visceral afferents
  • Visceral sensitivity


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