Background and aims: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common functional bowel disease in the West. Information on the prevalence of IBS in the Asian population is relatively scanty. The aims of the present study were to determine the prevalence of IBS and to assess the symptom subgroups based on the predominant bowel habit in a young adult population of Asian origin.
Methods: Basic demographic data and symptoms of IBS using the Rome I criteria were sought using a questionnaire administered to all apparently healthy students in a medical school. Other questions asked related to alcohol intake, smoking, chili consumption, dietary fiber intake, and to psychological and psychosomatic symptoms of anxiety, depression, insomnia, headache, and backache. The health-care seeking behavior of the subjects was also analyzed.
Results: Of the 610 questionnaires administered, 533 complete responses were received (response rate of 87.4%). The responders comprised 229 men (43.0%) and 304 (57.0%) women with a mean age of 22 +/- 1.8 years. The ethnic distribution was Malays 278 (52.2%), Chinese 179 (33.6%), Indians 46 (8.6%), and others 30 (5.6%). Eighty-four (15.8%) reported symptoms consistent with the diagnosis of IBS, predominantly women. Sixty-five (77.4%) and six (7.1%) were of the constipation-predominant and diarrhea-predominant IBS subgroups, respectively. Thirteen (15.5%) subjects fell into the non-specific IBS subgroup. The self-reported psychological and psychosomatic symptoms of anxiety (P = 0.02), depression (P = 0.002), insomnia (P = 0.006), headache (P = 0.04), and backache (P = 0.006) were encountered more frequently in the subjects with IBS. Only 13.1% of the IBS group had consulted their health-care practitioner, and 20.2% reported self-medication.
Conclusions: Symptoms supportive of the diagnosis of IBS were common among young Malaysians, with a prevalence rate of 15.8%. There were significantly more women with IBS than men. Within the IBS population, the majority (77.4%) was of the constipation-predominant IBS subgroup. A significantly higher prevalence of psychological and psychosomatic symptoms was found in individuals with IBS. Only a minority sought medical advice for their symptoms.