Gut Noises Could Provide Improved Diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Published Online: Thursday, June 7th, 2018

What do the "munching sounds of termites," have to do with diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome?

A lot, according to some reseearchers from the University of Western Australia.

Researchers from this university utilized technology that was originally created to track termite munching sounds, and adpated an acoustic sensing belt that offers a new way to diagnose irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) by listening to the noises in a patient’s gut, according to research presented at Digestive Disease Week® (DDW) 2018.

“IBS is an extremely common disorder, yet notoriously difficult to diagnose, so we wanted to find a way to listen to the noises of the gut to identify patterns that characterize conditions like IBS,” Barry Marshall, AC, FRACP, FAA, FRS, MBBS, Nobel Laureate, director of the Marshall Centre at the University of Western Australia and a lead researcher on the study said in a press release. 

In this preliminary study, researchers developed a basic prototype belt that uses machine learning techniques to identify complex features and patterns of the sounds collected from within the abdomen. They recruited study participants with an existing clinical diagnosis of IBS or with healthy digestive systems. Participants wore the belt and their bowel sounds were recorded for 2 hours post-fasting, and then for 40 minutes after a standardized meal.

The preliminary results showed that the acoustic index output of the belt predicts IBS with high accuracy, allowing researchers to effectively differentiate between the 2 groups. Recordings from the first 31 IBS and 37 healthy participants were used to build the IBS acoustic index model. A statistical method called “leave one out cross-validation” was used with this data set and yielded 90% sensitivity and 92% specificity for IBS diagnosis. Independent testing using the next 15 IBS and 15 healthy study participants revealed 87% sensitivity and 87% specificity for IBS diagnosis.

“Once we further develop the belt and test it on more patients, this tool will be intended for use in primary care settings for the diagnosis of IBS,” Josephine Muir, PhD, associate director of the Marshall Centre at the University of Western Australia, another researcher on the study, said in the release. “The hope is that this new technology can offer a less invasive way to diagnose this painful, and sometimes debilitating, condition.”

Marshall B. Non-invasive diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome via novel bowel sound features: proof of principle. Abstract Tu2017. Presented at: Digestive Disease Week. June 2-5, 2017. Washington, DC. 

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