Objective: To identify the healthcare utilization and evaluation in a community-based population with an incident diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Study design: Retrospective cohort.
Patients: A randomly selected cohort of 149 Olmsted County, MN, adults with an incident diagnosis of IBS between June 1, 1992, and December 31, 1994.
Methods: Retrospective medical record review of each medical encounter for the 10 years before and the 3 years after the incident IBS diagnosis. Specific attention was given to healthcare visits, tests, and treatment associated with documented gastrointestinal (GI) tract symptoms and diagnosis of IBS.
Results: Of 149 patients, 98 (66%) were women, and the mean patient age was 46.6 years. Patients averaged 4.7 healthcare visits annually, including 0.5 related to GI tract symptoms. Two thirds of patients had GI tract symptom-related visits at least 2 years before IBS diagnosis. Only 5% of IBS diagnoses were made by a gastroenterologist. Colon examinations (colonoscopy or barium enema) were performed on 47% of patients and were more common in those aged > or = 55 years (58% vs 36%; P = .02). One third of patients had no GI tract testing proximal to the IBS diagnosis. Following the IBS diagnosis, only about half the patients made any IBS or GI tract symptom-related visits per year.
Conclusion: The path to diagnosis of IBS is through the primary care physician and includes minimal testing and limited follow-up care.