Objectives: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder in the general population, and is linked to considerable impairments in daily functioning. Little is known about the prevalence of IBS symptoms among students. This study examined the prevalence and characteristics of IBS, sex differences, associations to other somatic complaints and sleep, quality of life (QoL), and childhood abdominal pain in a German university student population.
Methods: Using an Internet-based questionnaire, we assessed IBS criteria (according to Rome III), health complaints, health-related QoL (12-item short-form), healthcare-seeking behavior, absenteeism from classes, and subjective attributions in a sample of 2399 university students (mean age: 24.16 years; 1701 female and 696 male students).
Results: The prevalence of IBS-like symptoms was 18.1% with a significant difference between male (15.2%) and female (21.0%) students. Logistic regression models showed that being long-term student doubles the risk for having IBS [adjusted Odds ratio (OR)=2.16], as did the presence of other health problems: recurrent backaches (adjusted OR=2.15), troubles falling asleep (adjusted OR=1.52), and recurrent abdominal pain during childhood (adjusted OR=2.01). The IBS group had significant impairment on 12-item short-form physical and mental dimensions compared with asymptomatic students. Approximately 60% of participants fulfilling IBS criteria never consulted a physician. Male students attributed their symptoms significantly more to nutrition than female students did, who attributed their symptoms significantly more often to stress and anxiety.
Conclusion: IBS is a common syndrome among German university students and goes along with impaired health-related QoL. According to our data, students reporting recurrent abdominal pain in childhood are especially at risk for IBS.