IBS Patients Rate Health in Unexpected Ways

IBS patients judged their overall health based on fatigue and social interactions

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) often deal with severe physical symptoms. One might think that those symptoms would affect how IBS patients feel about their overall health, but that might not be the case.

New research suggests that IBS patients' perception of their overall health may be based less on physical symptoms and more on other factors, such as stress or social interactions.

The researchers found that physical symptoms directly attributable to IBS, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, played less into how patients perceived their overall health than things like depression or fatigue.

According to the study's lead author, these results may surprise clinicians who see these patients in their offices and think that because their disease causes them a lot of pain and bowel issues, these patients think their overall health is poor.

"Tell your doctor how your condition affects your life."

Many of those with IBS actually rate their overall health as good, according to the authors of this study, who were led by Jeffrey Lackner, PsyD, of the University at Buffalo School of Medicine.

The IBS patients in this study were asked to self-rate how they perceived their overall health. Self-ratings of health are shown to be good predictors of future health, such as mortality (death) and morbidity (disease), the authors noted in their article. Patients who rate their health as good are less likely to use disability or health care, they added.

In their study, these researchers included 234 patients with IBS from two medical centers, one in Buffalo and the other in Chicago. The patients were predominantly women, as IBS is more common in women than in men.

These patients had IBS for an average of 16.2 years and had symptoms of the disease — such as diarrhea, constipation or a cycle of both, or pain — at least twice a week for at least six months. They all met the criteria for IBS and were diagnosed by a board-certified gastroenterologist (a physician who specializes in the digestive system).

The participants were asked to rate the severity and frequency of their physical symptoms, like distention or pain. They also answered questions about how their disease affected their quality of life.

More than half (29 percent) rated their overall health as very good to excellent, 48 percent rated it as good, and 21 percent said it was fair or poor.

Their answers were strongly linked to issues like depression, stress and other physical health issues like migraine or allergies.

The participants also rated their health lower if they had social problems, such as negative interactions with friends or family.

Their ratings of overall health were not strongly related to their physical bowel issues, Dr. Lackner and team found.

These researchers had expected that the more severe a patients’ IBS symptoms, the more those symptoms would influence their self-reported health, but this wasn’t the case.

“When we, as clinicians, ask our patients how they are feeling, we expect that they will be on the same page with what we are assessing physically,” Dr. Lackner said in a press release. “But oftentimes, patients’ perceptions are at odds with medical reality. It’s a much more complex, cognitive process that factors in a number of medical and social factors that are not necessarily on a physician’s radar screen.”

This study appeared in The American Journal of Gastroenterology in February.

No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
March 19, 2014
Last Updated:
March 20, 2014