A prospective assessment of bowel habit in irritable bowel syndrome in women: defining an alternator

Gastroenterology. 2005 Mar;128(3):580-9. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2004.12.006.


Background & aims: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is subtyped as IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D) or IBS with constipation (IBS-C) based on Rome II guidelines. The remaining group is considered as having mixed IBS (IBS-M). There is no standard definition of an alternator (IBS-A), in which bowel habit changes over time. Our aim was to use Rome II criteria to prospectively assess change in bowel habit for more than 1 year to understand IBS-A.

Methods: Female patients (n=317) with IBS entering a National Institutes of Health treatment trial were studied at baseline with questionnaires and 2-week daily diary cards of pain and stool frequency and consistency. Studies were repeated at the end of treatment (3 months) and at four 3-month intervals for one more year. Algorithms to classify subjects into IBS-D, IBS-C, and IBS-M groups used diary card information and modified Rome II definitions. Changes in bowel habit at 3-month intervals were then assessed using these surrogate diary card measures.

Results: At baseline, 36% had IBS-D, 31% IBS-M, and 34% IBS-C. Except for stool frequency, there were no differences between groups. While the proportion of subjects in each subgroup remained the same over the year, most individuals (more than 75%) changed to either of the other 2 subtypes at least once. IBS-M was the least stable (50% changed out by 12 weeks). Patients were more likely to transition between IBS-M and IBS-C than between IBS-D and IBS-M. Notably, only 29% switched between the IBS-D and IBS-C subtypes over the year.

Conclusions: While the proportion of subjects in each of the IBS subtypes stays the same, individuals commonly transition between subtypes, particularly between IBS-M and IBS-C. We recommend that IBS-A be defined as at least one change between IBS-D and IBS-C by Rome II criteria over a 1-year period.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Constipation / etiology
  • Defecation*
  • Diarrhea / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / classification*
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / complications
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Medical Records
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Time Factors