Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome in adults
- Arnold Wald, MD
Arnold Wald, MD
- Professor of Medicine
- University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional disorder of the gastrointestinal tract characterized by chronic abdominal pain and altered bowel habits. However, only a small percentage of those affected seek medical attention [1-5]. Approximately 40 percent of individuals who meet diagnostic criteria for IBS do not have a formal diagnosis . IBS is associated with increased health care costs and is the second highest cause of work absenteeism [7,8]. In the United States, IBS accounts for 25 to 50 percent of all referrals to gastroenterologists . This topic will review the clinical manifestations and diagnosis of IBS. The pathophysiology and management of IBS are discussed in detail separately. (See "Pathophysiology of irritable bowel syndrome" and "Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome in adults".)
Prevalence — The prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in North America estimated from population-based studies is approximately 10 to 15 percent [1,2,10-14]. In a meta-analysis that included eight international studies, the pooled prevalence of IBS was estimated to be 11 percent, with wide variation by geographic region . The prevalence of IBS was 25 percent lower in those aged over 50 years as compared with those who were younger (OR, 0.75; 95% CI, 0.62-0.92) . The overall prevalence of IBS in women was higher as compared with men (odds ratio 1.67 [95% CI 1.53–1.82]) . This relative difference reflects an absolute difference in prevalence of approximately 5 percent between the sexes, with a prevalence in women and men of 14 and 9 percent, respectively. Women may be more likely to have constipation-predominant IBS as compared with men .
Associated conditions — IBS is associated with other conditions including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as systemic exertion intolerance disease), gastroesophageal reflux disease, functional dyspepsia, non-cardiac chest pain, and psychiatric disorders including major depression, anxiety, and somatization [17-21]. (See "Pathophysiology of irritable bowel syndrome", section on 'Psychosocial dysfunction'.)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is characterized by chronic abdominal pain and altered bowel habits .
Chronic abdominal pain — Abdominal pain in IBS is usually described as a cramping sensation with variable intensity and periodic exacerbations. The location and character of the pain can vary widely [17,22]. The severity of the pain may range from mild to severe. The pain is frequently related to defecation. While in some patients abdominal pain is relieved with defecation, some patients report worsening of pain with defecation . Emotional stress and meals may exacerbate the pain. Patients with IBS also frequently report abdominal bloating and increased gas production in the form of flatulence or belching.To continue reading this article, you must log in with your personal, hospital, or group practice subscription. For more information on subscription options, click below on the option that best describes you:
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- Associated conditions
- CLINICAL MANIFESTATIONS
- Chronic abdominal pain
- Altered bowel habits
- - Diarrhea
- - Constipation
- Overview of diagnostic approach
- Diagnostic criteria
- Initial evaluation
- - History and physical examination
- - Laboratory testing
- - Other tests
- Additional evaluation based on the presence of alarm features
- DIFFERENTIAL DIAGNOSIS
- DISEASE COURSE
- SOCIETY GUIDELINE LINKS
- INFORMATION FOR PATIENTS
- SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS