Objective: The prevalence and impact of upper gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms in the general population are poorly defined. Most data are obtained from selected samples derived from patients presenting to health care providers. As part of a larger international effort (The DIGEST study), we examined the prevalence of upper GI symptoms among the general Canadian population, as well as their psychosocial and economic impact.
Methods: A sample of 1036 adults was studied, its demographic characteristics closely matching those of the general Canadian population. A validated detailed questionnaire measured the prevalence, severity, and frequency of 15 digestive symptoms, as well as demographic information, use of medication and medical resources, other illnesses, and dietary habits. The Psychological General Well-Being Index, a self-administered questionnaire, assessed the individual's subjective sense of well-being.
Results: Of the sample population, 28.6% reported substantial symptoms in the preceding 3 months, the majority (111/153 subjects) for >1 yr; 34.1% reported having never experienced significant GI symptoms. The most bothersome symptoms were primarily related to dysmotility-like symptoms in 54.9% of those with chronic symptoms, ulcer-like symptoms in 12.4%, and related to heartburn in 42.5%. Chronic upper GI symptoms were associated with a highly significant (p < 0.001) decrease in all facets of the Psychological General Well Being Index.
Conclusions: Upper GI symptoms are very prevalent in the general Canadian population and substantially affect the quality-of-life and psychological well-being of those affected. Dysmotility-like symptoms, rather than heartburn, are the most common chronic upper gastrointestinal symptoms in the general population.