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Oxytocin and its receptor have been found throughout the gastrointestinal tract, where it affects gut function. Because of improvements in bowel habits during lactation in postpartum women with constipation, a study was recently conducted to examine whether oxytocin has an effect on bowel symptoms and psychological well-being in women with refractory constipation.
In a report by Bodil Ohlsson, MD, and colleagues (Neurogastroenterology and Motility, June 2005), women (n = 59) with refractory constipation were randomly allocated to treatment with nasal inhalation of either oxytocin or placebo. Symptoms, including altered bowel habits and abdominal pain and discomfort, were assessed at baseline and at the end of the study using the Gastrointestinal Symptoms Rating Scale (GSRS) and Psychological General Well-Being scores.
Oxytocin and placebo both alleviated constipation, as assessed by the GSRS, along with sensations of incomplete evacuation and anorectal obstruction. Abdominal pain and discomfort responded weakly to oxytocin; placebo had no effect.
In a subgroup of patients with irritable bowel syndrome and depression, a small improvement in depression was observed after oxytocin administration. Although treatment with oxytocin had no significant advantage over placebo in relieving constipation, it did have a positive effect on abdominal pain and discomfort and on depression.