Irritable bowel syndrome in a general population - Tips from Other Journals

Date: June, 1992

Irritable bowels syndrome is the most common functional gastrointestinal disorder seen in both primary and secondary care. However, estimating the prevalence of this condition is difficult. Available prevalence studies are based on selected populations, and it is thought that many patients with this condition do not consult physicians, perhaps out of fear that their symptoms may indicate a more serious disorder. Jones and Lydeard conducted a study to assess the prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome (as defined by the Manning criteria) in a general practice population in southern England.

A questionnaire concerning the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome was sent to 2,280 adults between the ages of 20 and 90 years. The participants were chosen randomly from lists of patients provided by general practitioners. Of the 1,620 respondents (71 percent), 412 (25 percent) reported having six or more episodes of abdominal pain during the preceding year. Of these patients, 350 (85 percent) reported having additional symptoms consistent with the syndrome. Among participants who met the criteria for irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea was reported by 58 percent, constipation by 48 percent, and rectal bleeding by 35 percent. The overall prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome was 21.6 percent (18.7 percent in men and 24.3 percent in women). The frequency of symptoms was not influenced by social class or by tobacco use.

Only 117 (33 percent) of the respondents who met the criteria for irritable bowel syndrome had sought medical advice. Women were more likely to have consulted a physician than were men (36 percent versus 30 percent). The rate of consultation rose with age and was influenced by the specific symptoms reported but not by the overall severity of symptoms. Of those with irritable bowel syndrome and rectal bleeding, 47 percent had sought medical advice, compared with only 25 percent of those with irritable bowel syndrome with no rectal bleeding. Self-medication was reported by 137 (39 percent) of the respondents with irritable bowel syndrome, compared with 216 (17 percent) of those without the syndrome.

The authors conclude that at least one quarter of the general population in England has symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome. Only about one-third of these patients seek medical advice. (BMJ, January 11, 1992, vol. 304, p. 87.)

COPYRIGHT 1992 American Academy of Family PhysiciansCOPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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