Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional gastrointestinal disorder that is frequently seen in gastroenterological practice. Population-based studies have shown that at any point in time IBS symptoms are present in about 3%-22% of the general Western population. In general practice, half of all new patients have functional disorders and IBS is responsible for about five consultations per week. General practitioners (GPs) manage the majority of IBS patients, but most knowledge (and research) is based on the smaller percentage of patients managed in secondary care. There is a paucity of literature on differences or similarities between these two groups with regard to clinical characteristics or diagnostic approach.
The literature published in English about IBS in general practice was reviewed.
Irritable bowel syndrome is frequently encountered in primary care. Primary care IBS patients, compared to secondary care patients, are likely to be young, female and to have less severe symptoms. But this is only true for some symptoms; for example, non-abdominal complaints are equally reported in both groups. The disorder can be diagnosed safely using internationally agreed symptom-based criteria, such as the Rome II criteria. Additional diagnostic measures will be necessary to support the diagnosis in only a minority of situations. Many primary care IBS patients can be managed given adequate reassurance and education, frequently without additional pharmacological treatment.