A comparison of autonomic function in patients with inflammatory bowel disease and in healthy controls
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We evaluated autonomic function, symptoms and psychological parameters in patients with ulcerative colitis (UC), Crohn's disease (CD) and matched controls to assess whether UC patients have greater basal sympathetic autonomic activity. Outpatients with UC (n = 15), CD (n = 13) and healthy controls (n = 28) underwent spectral analysis of heart rate variability to assess cardiac autonomic function, a methacholine challenge to assess cholinergic pulmonary responsiveness, and questionnaires assessing disease severity, anxiety and depression. UC but not CD patients had greater sympathetic activity than controls with increased absolute (6600 vs 5884; P = 0.04) and relative (62.8%vs 54.8%; P = 0.02) low frequency areas. This was not because of increased overall autonomic nervous system (ANS) activation and was independent of disease activity. In UC patients, trait (personality-related) anxiety correlated strongly with disease symptoms (R = 0.84; P < 0.001) and quality of life (R = -0.81; P < 0.001) while situational (state) anxiety did not. In CD patients, ANS measures were similar to controls and disease activity was unrelated to psychological measures. Cholinergic pulmonary responsiveness was normal in both UC and CD patients. UC patients have an increased sympathetic ANS activity which is independent of symptom severity. In these patients symptom severity is strongly associated with measures of personality related (but not current) anxiety.
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