Background: Although general practitioners play a critical role in the management of irritable bowel syndrome because they deal with the most patients, guidelines are developed mainly by specialists.
Aims: To evaluate the clinical features of irritable bowel patients and the general practitioners' approach to irritable bowel syndrome in Italy.
Subjects and methods: A questionnaire focusing on the management of this syndrome was completed by 28 general practitioners. Clinical features and diagnostic and treatment measures taken in 229 patients were analysed.
Results: Only 35.7% of the general practitioners were familiar with the Rome II criteria. Changes in bowel habits and abdominal pain/discomfort were the most common symptoms. Constipation (74.2%) was more frequent as the main symptom than diarrhoea. Routine blood tests (76.4%) and abdominal ultrasound (42.2%) were requested more frequently than colonoscopy (31.1%). At least one specialist consultation was recommended in 63.3% of patients. Drugs (mainly antispasmodics) were prescribed more frequently for diarrhoea (91.4%) than for constipation (55.7%).
Conclusions: General practitioners are little acquainted with the Rome II criteria. Diagnostic tests and specialist consultations are often recommended; antispasmodics are the most frequently prescribed drug. Guidelines should be developed together by general practitioners and gastroenterologists to effectively manage patients at a lower cost.