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Risk factors and treatment options for functional bowel disorders

08 November 2018

Functional bowel disorders are very common in the community and can vary in presentation from heartburn and abdominal pain to irritable bowel syndrome and bloating. Gastroenterologist Dr Kenji So explains the risk factors and treatment options.

Risk factors for functional bowel disorders 

There is a long held recognition of the associated between function gastrointestinal symptoms and life stressors and psychological symptoms, such as anxiety and depression. Therefore some of hte main risk factors for developing functional bowel disorders include:

  • chronic stress
  • anxiety
  • depression.

Functional bowel disorders and irritable bowel syndrome are also recognised as motility disorders (affects the contraction of the muscles of the gastrointestinal GI tract), while visceral hypersensitivity (pain within the inner organs) and issues with intestinal barrier dysfunction also play a role. 

Diagnosing functional bowel disorders

Diagnosis of functional bowel disorders have evolved over the years, as symptoms and presentation of functional bowel disorders can vary greatly.

For doctors, the Rome IV criteria is currently widely accepted as one of the diagnostic tools.


Treatment for functional bowel disorders is multi-dimensional and can be difficult at times.

Treatment can include:

  • dietary interventions such as low FODMAPs diet)
  • probiotics
  • cognitive behavioural therapy
  • neuromodulators.

Medications may also be prescribed to manage symptoms.

Dr Kenji So - Gastroenterologist

Dr Kenji So is a gastroenterologist who treats both public and private patients at St John of God Midland Public and Private Hospitals. He has a keen interest in inflammatory bowel disease, as well as coeliac disease, iron deficiency anaemia, colonoscopy, gastoscopy, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, bowel cancer screening and general adult gastroenterology.