Background and study aims: To summarize the published literature on assessment of appropriateness of colonoscopy for the investigation of functional bowel symptoms, and report appropriateness criteria developed by an expert panel, the 2008 European Panel on the Appropriateness of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, EPAGE II.
Methods: A systematic search of guidelines, systematic reviews and primary studies regarding the evaluation and management of functional bowel symptoms was performed. The RAND/UCLA Appropriateness Method was applied to develop appropriateness criteria for colonoscopy for these conditions.
Results: Much of the evidence for use of colonoscopy in evaluation of chronic abdominal pain, and/or constipation and/or abdominal bloating is modest. Major limitations include small numbers of patients and lack of adequate characterization of these patients. Large community-based follow-up studies are needed to enable better definition of the natural history of patients with functional bowel disorders. Guidelines stress that alarm features ("red flags"), such as rectal bleeding, anemia, weight loss, nocturnal symptoms, family history of colon cancer, age of onset > 50 years, and recent onset of symptoms should all lead to careful evaluation before a diagnosis of functional bowel disorder is made. EPAGE II assessed these symptoms by means of 12 clinical scenarios, rating colonoscopy as appropriate, uncertain and inappropriate in 42 % (5/12), 25 % (3/12), and 33 % (4/12) of these, respectively.
Conclusions: Evidence to support the use of colonoscopy in the evaluation of patients with functional bowel disorders and no alarm features is lacking. These patients have no increased risk of colon cancer and thus advice on screening for this is not different from that for the general population. EPAGE II criteria, available online (http://www.epage.ch), consider colonoscopy appropriate in patients of > 50 years with chronic or new-onset bowel disturbances, but not in patients with isolated chronic abdominal pain.