Patterns of oesophageal motility were recorded in 17 healthy volunteers and 12 patients with the irritable bowel syndrome. Recordings were taken at rest and under stress by hyperventilation, a dichotic hearing challenge and a cold pressor test. In healthy volunteers the dichotic hearing challenge was associated with a significant increase in the mean amplitude of oesophageal peristalsis from 69.9 mmHg to 82.4 mmHg (p less than 0.01) and in the percentage of simultaneous waves from 9.7% to 24.5% (p less than 0.01). The cold pressor test increased the peristaltic amplitude from 69.9 mmHg to 87.1 mmHg (p less than 0.001) and the percentage of simultaneous waves from 9.7% to 34.4% (p less than 0.01). Both manoeuvres were associated with increases in pulse and blood pressure. In patients with irritable bowel syndrome, the resting mean oesophageal peristaltic amplitude was higher than that seen in normal volunteers (95.9 mmHg v 69.9 mmHg p less than 0.05). Changes in oesophageal motility during stress were similar in these patients to those seen in normal subjects although the changes were not significant. This study refutes the hypothesis that symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and their association with stress are attributable to increased sensitivity of oesophageal motility to disruption by stressful stimuli.
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