The relationship between the sensation of bloating, often ranked as the most bothersome symptom by patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and actual distention manifest as an increase in abdominal girth is controversial. Investigation of this problem has been hampered by the lack of a reliable ambulatory technique to measure abdominal girth. The aim of this study was to use the technique of abdominal inductance plethysmography to compare diurnal variation in girth in IBS patients and healthy volunteers, relating these changes to the sensation of bloating.
Abdominal girth was recorded for 24 hours in 20 IBS-constipation (age, 18-73 y), 20 IBS-diarrhea (age, 25-62 y) and 10 IBS-alternating (age, 21-59 y) female patients meeting Rome II criteria and 20 healthy female controls (age, 18-67 y). All subjects pursued normal daily activities, recording their symptoms of bloating and pain together with bowel habit.
All patients with IBS, irrespective of bowel habit, reported significantly greater bloating than controls (P < .0001). Forty-eight percent of patients also showed distention beyond the 90% control range, with this being most prominent in IBS-constipation. Bloating correlated strongly only with distention in IBS-constipation (r > or = 0.48; P < or = .02). Neither bloating nor distention in IBS was related to body mass index, age, parity, or psychologic status.
Abdominal distention is a clearly definable phenomenon in IBS that can reach 12 cm. However, it only occurs in half of patients reporting bloating, and the 2 only correlate in IBS-constipation. Bloating and distention may differ pathophysiologically and this appears to be reflected in the bowel habit subtype.