Background: Although clinicians generally make treatment decisions in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) related to the type of symptoms, other factors such as the perceived severity and the risks patients are willing to tolerate for effective treatment are also important to consider. These factors are not fully understood.
Objective: To describe among patients with IBS their symptoms and severity, quality of life and health status, medications taken, and the risk that they would take to continue medications for optimal relief.
Methods: Adult patients diagnosed with IBS who accessed the websites of the International Foundation for Functional GI Disorders or the University of North Carolina Center for Functional GI Disorders filled out questionnaires to address the study aims.
Results: The 1966 respondents (83% female, 91% white, 78% US/Canada) reported impaired health status: restricting on average 73 days of activity in a year, having poor health-related quality of life particularly with dietary restrictions, mood disturbance, and interference with daily activity, and 35% reported their symptoms as severe defined primarily as pain, bowel difficulties, bloating, and eating/dietary restrictions). These symptoms were reported in some combination by over 90%, and 35.1% endorsed all 4 items. To receive a treatment that would make them symptom free, patients would give up 25% of their remaining life (average 15 y) and 14% would risk a 1/1000 chance of death. Most of the medications being taken were for pain relief and 18% were taking narcotics. Complementary and alternative treatments were used by 37%.
Conclusions: Patients accessing IBS informational websites report moderate-to-severe impairments in health status, and would take considerable risk to obtain symptom benefit. There is an unmet need to find effective treatments for patients with IBS and regulatory agencies might consider raising risk-benefit ratios when approving new medications for IBS.