Background: Irritable bowel syndrome is a common condition seen in Western countries. In Asia, however, it is less known and even less studied.
Aim: To determine the prevalence and social impact of irritable bowel syndrome as well as the health-seeking behaviour of irritable bowel syndrome patients in Taiwan
Methods: Using the modified Rome II questionnaire, a survey was carried out in a population receiving physical check-up (n = 2865).
Results: The prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome in Taiwan was 22.1% and 17.5% (kappa = 0.73) according to the Rome II and I criteria, respectively. No gender difference was found between subjects with and without irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. Irritable bowel syndrome subjects were likely to undertake an excessive number of physician-visits (P < 0.01). Such subjects were often absent from work/school, with more days of absenteeism than irritable bowel syndrome-free subjects (P < 0.01). They also suffered obvious sleep disturbance (P < 0.01). Nearly half of the irritable bowel syndrome subjects were 'consulters', and they were more likely to have frequent physician-visits, suffer from work/school absenteeism, and endure sleep disturbance and bowel symptoms than irritable bowel syndrome nonconsulters (P < 0.05).
Conclusions: Irritable bowel syndrome is common in a Chinese population of Taiwan. Similar to irritable bowel syndrome in the West, it also involves significant social and medical burdens. However, in the irritable bowel syndrome subjects of Taiwan there is no gender difference, and more irritable bowel syndrome subjects will seek physician consultations, which may be due to Taiwan's easily accessible and affordable heath care facilities.