Early life risk factors that contribute to irritable bowel syndrome in adults: a systematic review

Am J Gastroenterol. 2008 Mar;103(3):765-74; quiz 775. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.2007.01722.x. Epub 2008 Jan 2.


Background: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that occurs in adults. The natural history of symptoms and risk factors that contribute to IBS may begin in childhood. The aim of this systematic review was to determine what early life factors contribute to the development of IBS in adolescents and adults.

Methods: A computer-assisted search of the PubMed database from 1966 to 2007 was performed. The selection criteria were: (a) studies conducted in adolescents or adults with IBS that (b) investigate premorbid factors occurring specifically during the childhood period and are (c) associated with the outcomes of symptoms, quality of life, health-care utilization, and interferences with work or disability.

Results: Twenty-five articles met inclusion criteria. The studies were categorized into articles examining the persistence of childhood gastrointestinal symptoms into adulthood, affluent childhood socioeconomic status and adult IBS, infantile and childhood trauma associated with the development of adult IBS, and social learning of illness behavior as predictors of adult IBS.

Conclusion: Pediatricians should be aware of potentially modifiable childhood risk factors and should consider interventions such as early symptom management of recurrent functional abdominal pain with cognitive therapies and parent education about social learning of illness behavior. Early treatment may have a long-term impact. Research examining the effect of affluent childhood socioeconomic status and early childhood trauma in the evolution of functional gastrointestinal disorders may help identify causative factors of IBS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Child
  • Child Abuse
  • Child Development
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / etiology*
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / psychology
  • Life Change Events
  • Risk Factors
  • Sick Role
  • Socioeconomic Factors