December 16, 2015
2 min read

AGA survey shows significant burden of IBS, need for improved patient-physician communication

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The AGA has released results from its IBS in America survey, which shows patients have a significant daily burden affecting them physically, emotionally and socially, and highlights the need for improved communication between patients and health care providers, according to a press release.

Overall 3,254 individuals with IBS, 151 primary care physicians and 151 gastroenterologists were surveyed from September 14 to October 29, 2015, making it “the most comprehensive IBS survey” of patients and physicians ever performed.

Michael Camilleri

IBS is an important health care priority — it is the seventh most common diagnosis made by all physicians and the most common diagnosis made by gastroenterologists. People who suffer from abdominal pain and bowel symptoms are not alone,” AGA President Michael Camilleri, MD, AGAF, said in the press release. “Talking about bowel function habits is never easy, but it is concerning to see how long the respondents in this survey often waited to talk to a doctor. There may not be a cure for IBS, but there are treatments. Patients need to see a doctor, and doctors need to be proactive in bringing up this topic in conversation with the patient.”

Key highlights from the survey results include:

  • 67% of IBS patients waited more than a year to talk to a physician about their symptoms, and 11% waited 10 years or more;
  • 85% discussed IBS with family or friends in addition to a doctor, 59% of whom received their advice, and among them, 90% followed it;
  • 52% reported “extremely/very bothersome” symptoms, and among them, 55% said they would give up caffeine, 47% said they would give up their cell phone or the internet and 40% said they would give up sex for 1 month for the chance of 1 month of symptom relief;
  • 70% said they had symptoms at least 2 to 3 days per week;
  • 22% said they are “not at all” able to predict daily symptoms;
  • Patients with symptoms said they interfered with their productivity and performance 9 days per month on average and caused 2 missed work/school days per month on average;
  • 75% said they felt frustrated and/or depressed;
  • 77% said they tried more than three over-the-counter products, but few were “very satisfied” with them;
  • 38% of physicians said communication with their patients was “most lacking” in treatment; and
  • 65% of patients said they were somewhat/very satisfied with their physician care.

“The ‘IBS in America’ survey gives voice to the experience of people suffering from this condition in a way I have never seen before,” Anthony Lembo, MD, from Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, and survey co-author, said in the press release. “Understanding what people would be willing to give up for 1 month — including sex or caffeine — in exchange for one month free of IBS symptoms is a powerful illustration of just how much they are suffering.”

Anthony Lembo

“The finding I was most surprised by in this survey is how often sufferers take advice from families and friends given that IBS affects everyone differently — what worked for one person may not work in another, so it’s critical that patients work with a doctor to manage their own disease,” Andrea Shin, MD, practicing gastroenterologist and assistant research professor at Indiana University, and survey co-author, said in the press release.

In light of these findings, AGA recommends that to improve communication between patients and physicians, IBS patients should speak to a doctor “early, completely and often” regarding their symptoms. 

Disclosures: The survey was financially supported by Ironwood and Allergan, conducted by GfK and commissioned by the AGA.

Reference: AGA. IBS in America. Accessed December 16, 2015.