By Roxanne Nelson
SEATTLE (Reuters Health) - Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) significantly impairs quality of life, burdens patients with high out-of-pocket costs and causes losses in productivity, according to findings presented Sunday at the American College of Gastroenterology's annual meeting. However, a related study, also presented on Sunday, found that exercise may help patients to cope with their disorder.
IBS is estimated to affect up to 20% of the US population, primarily women, yet there is no cure or even an effective treatment, explained lead author Dr. Mugdha Gore, who is with Avalon Health Solutions. The condition is characterized by a cluster of symptoms including bouts of constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating. The cause of the condition is unknown.
"This leads to patients trying out numerous drugs and other treatments, much of which is paid out-of-pocket since they are not recognized by their insurance company or HMO," she told Reuters Health.
Gore and colleagues conducted a survey of members of the Intestinal Disease Foundation, a national patient advocacy group. The questions covered topics such as disease history, symptom frequency, healthcare utilization, medication use, out-of-pocket expenses and impact of symptoms on productivity and functioning.
Of 657 respondents, 97% reported having two or more consults with a healthcare professional in the last 3 months, and 75% reported four or more. Most patients said they had used over-the-counter and prescription medications and alternative modalities, with 89% taking at least three therapies. The average out of pocket expenditure was $258 during the past 3 months.
Of those who were employed, 39% had missed work, 34% reported leaving early, and 33% said their productivity was decreased during the 3 months preceding the study.
"This is still a disease that is not taken seriously," Gore explained, "even though it impairs all aspects of a person's life."
According to the survey, only one third of respondents reported satisfaction with currently available treatments.
A related study found that an increase in physical activity was associated with a better quality of life among IBS patients, and results suggest that a higher level of physical activity may help them manage their illness.
"Ours is the first study to look at the role of physical activity in this population, even though exercise has been advocated as a treatment modality," lead author Dr. Ashok K. Tuteja told Reuters Health. "Decreased physical activity will not increase the prevalence of IBS, but people who are more active will have a better perception and it helps them in coping with it."
Tuteja, who is from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and colleagues performed a study that evaluated the association between quality of life and exercise. In response to a questionnaire sent to 1,069 employees of the Veterans Affairs Health Care System, inquiring about bowel habits, quality of life and physical activity, 64 (9.1%) individuals reported symptoms of IBS.
IBS patients reported lower quality of life than patients without IBS. However, physical activity was found to be associated with greater physical functioning and health perception among those with IBS. The association was with leisure activity and sports, Tuteja noted. Overall, the patients who exercised felt better.