Herpes and Constipation: Firming Up a Loose Connection

By Carl Engelking | June 9, 2016 2:30 pm

(Credit: Piotr Marcinski/Shutterstock) 

Constipation and an inability to empty the bladder are rare, but not unheard of, complaints from patients who acquire a genital herpes infection.

The thing is, doctors couldn’t say how these seemingly unrelated symptoms were linked to the infection. Now, a team led by Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunobiology at Yale University and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, has discovered a mechanism that directly ties the viral infection with gastrointestinal complications.

The findings were a bit of a surprise for Iwasaki, and her study serves as reminder that even common viral diseases can still pose medical mysteries.

“Perhaps this is the tip of the iceberg, and there are other side effects that we don’t typically associate with this infection,” says Iwasaki. “Viral diseases may be more broad spectrum than we anticipated.”

Traveling Through the Body

Researchers focused their study on “oral herpes,” or herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1). Though HSV-1 typically causes sores on the mouth and lips, it’s also a leading cause of genital herpes. Iwasaki’s team used mice infected with an HSV-1 analogue, and studied its effects on the body.

They found that in a third of infected mice the virus traveled from genital tissue and into the spinal cord. From there, it spread to the roots of the enteric nervous system, which controls the muscles that help pass bowel movements, and killed neurons.

Once the neurons were incapacitated, the muscles stopped contracting, and mice developed a condition known as toxic megacolon — a potentially fatal complication of inflammatory bowel disease. The mice were helped out with a laxative treatment. The team published its findings Wednesday in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.

In the Human Body

Fortunately, a herpes infection doesn’t affect humans as dramatically as mice, and severe constipation is rare in people with an HSV-1 infection. Still, Iwasaki says her study highlights a previously unrecognized disease process and gives doctors a new target to treat patients who have unexplained chronic constipation.

“When doctors can’t figure out the cause of these chronic intestinal conditions, one thing to look at is a viral infection,” says Iwasaki. “There are other members of the herpes virus family that infect the same sorts of neurons.” Chicken pox, Epstein-Barr and cytomegalovirus are a few viruses Iwasaki cites, as they have been found in neurons that reside in the colon.

Iwasaki is also focusing her research efforts on another poorly understood facet of herpes infections: stress. Although it’s commonly believed that stress is correlated with the reactivation of the virus, we don’t know why — or if — stress actually has this effect. To date, studies haven’t conclusively established this link.

“These are really fundamental questions that non-scientists would have guessed we’d have figured out by now,” she says.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
  • Jenny H

    My mother always had problems with constipation. She also used to frequently get cold sores.

  • http://www.smokershistory.com/ CarolAST

    Glorified peat moss.

  • colin joy

    All thanks to DR.Akhimien, I am here to share a good testimony of my self on how i came in contact with a real herbal Man who helped me. i appreciate everyone for taken their precious time to read my testimony, 6 months ago i was diagnosed of HERPES, this means that 2 months ago i was HERPES positive on till i went for research on the Internet, we came across DR. Akhimien and my friend said that she has come across a lot about him and said that he is a real herbal man remedy to all illness, i was really surprised on this and confused as well, I was so speechless and quickly i contact him to help me and he prepared some herbs for me and send it across to me and he told me the way i was going to be taken the medicine which i did, and in the next 3 weeks i went to the hospital and they said that i am now HERPES negative, i am very happy about this, when i contacted DR. Akhimien Of use dele again to tell him the good result , i asked him how he was able to help me, and he said that he was gifted with it that he can cure any disease and also do render these services viz:
    1. Ex back
    2. Goodluck in business
    3.super powers
    4. Enlargement of sexual organs….
    5. HSV….
    6. HIV/AIDS…
    7.hsv1 hsv2 hsv3 And many more. A problem shared is a problem solved; Email him at: Drakhiniemodion@gmail.comWhatsApp or call+2349033126596


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar