Objectives: This study was undertaken to determine (1) the prevalence of gastrointestinal symptoms including abdominal pain in a community-based population of adolescents, (2) whether a subgroup of these subjects have symptoms resembling Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and (3) whether anxiety and depression are more commonly found in adolescents with IBS-type symptoms compared with unaffected adolescents.
Methods: We collected data by administration of a gastrointestinal symptoms questionnaire, State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and Children's Depression Inventory to middle school and high school students.
Results: A total of 507 subjects participated (mean age of middle school students 12.6 years; mean age of high school students 15.6 years). Abdominal pain was noted by 75% of all students. The pain occurred weekly in 13% to 17% of the subjects and was severe enough to affect activities in approximately 21%. Irritable bowel syndrome-type symptoms were noted by 17% of high school students and 8% of middle school students (p <0.01) who reported abdominal pain (n = 381), representing 14% and 6% of all high school and middle school students (p <0.005), respectively. Anxiety and depression scores were significantly higher for students with IBS-type symptoms compared with those without symptoms. Eight percent of all students had seen a physician for abdominal pain in the previous year. These visits were correlated with abdominal pain severity, frequency, duration, and disruption of normal activities but not with anxiety, depression, gender, family structure, or ethnicity.
Conclusion: Recurrent abdominal pain and symptoms of IBS are commonly noted in a community-based adolescent population and frequently result in use of health care resources. Health care providers who work with this age group need to be able to recognize the symptom complex associated with IBS, as well as the possible relationship to anxiety and depression.