A Blood Test for IBS

Gastrointestinal disorders like IBS might be identifiable through new blood test

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Certain gastrointestinal disorders are difficult to diagnose, but a new development might help bring a little more certainty to the process.

Researchers from a Los Angeles-area medical center announced this week that they have discovered a new blood test with the potential to help people with gastrointestinal disorders. 

The test looks for high levels of a particular antibody and uses the results to potentially identify people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

"Track your diet to help identify foods that upset your stomach. "

Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders involve a wide variety of conditions with a multitude of causes and diagnostic methods.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, IBS is a syndrome affecting the colon or rectum, often involving symptoms like abdominal pains, excess gas, diarrhea or constipation. Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are more severe chronic illnesses that can cause inflammation of the bowel, often with symptoms like chronic diarrhea, weight loss or fever. The exact causes behind either of these conditions are unknown.

Gastroenteritis, on the other hand, is an inflammation of the digestive system caused by an infection and usually causes diarrhea. Gastroenteritis is often referred to as "the stomach flu," Cleveland Clinic explained. 

Led by Mark Pimentel, MD, Director of the GI Motility Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, this new study focused on a specific antibody, or protein that the body's immune system creates in response to harmful matter.

Dr. Pimentel and colleagues explained that previous studies have tied IBS in patients to earlier acute (or severe) cases of gastroenteritis, and tied acute gastroenteritis cases to bacterial overgrowth in the small intestines. It is thought that this overgrowth might stimulate production of antibodies against the protein vinculin.

The researchers set out to see if the presence of these anti-vinculin antibodies was a predictor of IBS.

This study included 221 adults between the ages of 18 and 65 years old who were recruited from two medical centers — one in Boston and one in Los Angeles. 

Participants completed a gastrointestinal symptom questionnaire that covered subjects like bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain and constipation. Blood serum samples were also taken from the participants to test for anti-vinculin antibodies. 

Of the patients, 165 had IBS, 30 had IBD and 26 had no gastrointestinal disorder (control group). 

The researchers found that the patients with IBS had a greater density of anti-vinculin antibodies than both the IBD patients and the control group.

In patients with a history of acute gastroenteritis, the levels of anti-vinculin antibodies were even higher. 

In a news release, Dr. Pimentel explained that these findings could change the way GI disorders are diagnosed.

"Until this study, there had been no accurate biomarkers identified specifically for IBS. The new blood test has the potential to distinguish IBS from IBD and reduce the need for unnecessary testing, expense and years of suffering,” said Dr. Pimentel.

In an interview with dailyRx News, Alexandra Reimann, ND (Naturopathic Doctor), a primary care physician at Valhalla Wellness in Las Vegas, highlighted the importance of this issue.

"The importance of gastrointestinal or digestive health, or optimal absorption, assimilation and elimination cannot be overstated," said Dr. Reimann. "Far too many people are suffering from less than optimal GI health and many have accepted their compromised states as normal."

Dr. Reimann said that a non-invasive diagnostic tool, like the new potential blood test, could aid in diagnosing gastrointestinal issues. The tool might also help identify the cause of the dysfunction and help bring greater understanding to the disease process and how to halt it, said Dr. Reimann.

Dr. Pimentel's study was presented at the American College of Gastroenterology’s 78th Annual Scientific Meeting in San Diego, California. Studies presented at conferences should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal. Further research will likely be needed to confirm the findings. 

Review Date: 
October 16, 2013
Last Updated:
December 31, 2013