Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is common in western Europe and North America, and many aspects of its epidemiology, risk factors, and natural history have been described in these regions. Recent data suggest, however, that IBS is also common in the rest of the world and there has been some evidence to suggest some differences in demographics and presenting features between IBS in the west and as it is experienced elsewhere. The World Gastroenterology Organization, therefore, established a Task Force comprising experts on the topic from all parts of the world to examine IBS from a global perspective. IBS does, indeed, seem to be common worldwide though with some significant variations in prevalence rates between regions and countries and there may well be some potentially interesting variations in presenting symptoms and sex distribution. The global map of IBS is far from complete; community-based prevalence data is not available from many areas. Furthermore, while some general trends are evident in terms of IBS impact and demographics, international comparisons are hampered by differences in diagnostic criteria, study location and methodology; several important unanswered questions have been identified that should form the basis for future collaborative research and have the potential to shed light on this challenging disorder.