Objectives: Health care use is a costly outcome of the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and nonulcer dyspepsia (NUD), but the predictors of this behavior remain poorly defined. We aimed to systematically review the literature to determine which symptoms and psychosocial factors drive health care seeking in these disorders.
Methods: A broad based MEDLINE and Current Contents search between 1966 and 2000 identified 44 relevant publications. References from these articles were also reviewed.
Results: The literature suggests that symptom severity is an important factor, but only explains a small proportion of the health care seeking behavior associated with these disorders in population-based studies. Psychosocial factors including life event stress, psychological morbidity, personality, abuse and abnormal illness attitudes and beliefs have been found to characterize those that seek help versus those that do not. The role of other psychosocial factors such as social support, coping style and knowledge about illness are as yet undetermined.
Conclusions: A model for health care seeking for IBS and NUD, with an emphasis on psychosocial factors is presented, but remains to be tested.