Objective: Symptomatic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), dyspepsia, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are generally considered to be chronic conditions, but community-based studies are sparse, and long-term natural history data are unavailable. We aimed to determine the natural history of these conditions.
Methods: A representative Swedish sample (20-79 yr) completed a validated questionnaire over the preceding 3 months. The survey was repeated after 1 and 7 yr in the same target group (n = 1290, 1260, and 1065; response rates 90%, 87%, and 82%, respectively; 79% responded to all three mailings).
Results: The prevalence of GERD symptoms remained stable, whereas the prevalence of IBS increased over time, independent of aging. Dyspepsia decreased with advancing age. Although more than half of those with IBS reported the same symptom profile after 1 and 7 yr, there was a substantial symptom fluctuation and symptom profile flux between those reporting dyspepsia, IBS, or minor symptoms. Only a minority with GERD (<10%) changed to dyspepsia and/or IBS, or vice versa. The symptom-free patients remained symptom-free or reported only minor symptoms in > or = 90% of cases.
Conclusion: There seem to be two distinct populations of symptom reporters, those with dyspepsia or IBS, and those with GERD.