Food-related gastrointestinal symptoms in the irritable bowel syndrome

Digestion. 2001;63(2):108-15. doi: 10.1159/000051878.


Background/aims: Postprandial symptoms are common in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, existing studies have come to different conclusions about the role of food in the pathophysiology of IBS. We explored the prevalence of subjective food-related gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms and its relationship to clinical characteristics and psychological factors in IBS.

Methods: 330 patients with IBS and 80 healthy volunteers completed a food questionnaire developed for this study. The subjects graded their subjective symptoms after 35 different foods and a food score was obtained by adding the item scores. The relationship between subjective food-related GI symptoms and referral status, IBS subgroup (predominant bowel pattern), sex, anxiety, depression and body mass index (BMI) was estimated.

Results: In 209 (63%) of the patients the GI symptoms were related to meals. Gas problems and abdominal pain were the most frequently reported symptoms. Foods rich in carbohydrates, as well as fatty food, coffee, alcohol and hot spices were most frequently reported to cause symptoms. The food score was higher in patients than in controls (p < 0.0001). In the IBS group higher scores were observed in patients with anxiety (p = 0.005), and females (p < 0.001), but the results were unrelated to IBS subgroup, referral status or BMI. The BMI did not differ between groups.

Conclusion: A majority of IBS patients consider their symptoms to be related to meals. Especially foods rich in carbohydrates and fat cause problems. Nevertheless, the majority of IBS patients are normal or overweight. Female sex and anxiety predict a high degree of food-related symptoms in IBS.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Body Mass Index
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Colonic Diseases, Functional / physiopathology*
  • Colonic Diseases, Functional / psychology*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Diet Records
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postprandial Period
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Statistics, Nonparametric