BACKGROUND The impact of irritable bowel syndrome, a gastrointestinal motility disorder, is underestimated and poorly quantified, as clinicians may see only a minority of sufferers. AIM To determine the prevalence, symptom patterns and impact of irritable bowel syndrome in the US. METHODS This two-phase community survey used quota sampling and random-digit telephone dialing (screening interview) to identify individuals with medically diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome or individuals not formally diagnosed, but fulfilling irritable bowel syndrome diagnostic criteria (Manning, Rome I or II). Information on irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, general health status, lifestyle and impact of symptoms on individuals' lives was collected using in-depth follow-up interviews. Data were also collected for healthy controls identified in the screening interviews. RESULTS The total prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome in 5009 screening interviews was 14.1% (medically diagnosed: 3.3%; undiagnosed, but meeting irritable bowel syndrome criteria: 10.8%). Abdominal pain/discomfort was the most common symptom prompting consultation. Most sufferers (74% medically diagnosed; 63% undiagnosed) reported alternating constipation and diarrhoea. Previously diagnosed gastrointestinal disorders occurred more often in sufferers than non-sufferers. Irritable bowel syndrome sufferers had more days off work (6.4 vs. 3.0) and days in bed, and reduced activities to a greater extent than non-sufferers. CONCLUSIONS Most (76.6%) irritable bowel syndrome sufferers in the US are undiagnosed. Irritable bowel syndrome has a substantial impact on sufferers' well-being and health, with considerable socioeconomic consequences.
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