Public Release: 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome The Focus Of Three UNC-CH Reports At Digestive Diseases Conference

University of North Carolina Health Care

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Drs. Douglas A. Drossman and William E. Whitehead, co-directors of the UNC Center for Functional Gastrointestinal and Motility Disorders, are senior authors of three scientific reports on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), slated for presentation at this year's American Gastroenterology Society Digestive Diseases Week meetings, May 16-19 in Orlando, Fla. Functional GI and motility disorders affect large numbers of people and are characterized by persistent or recurrent symptoms not explained by structural or biochemical abnormalities. Survey results show that 69 percent of all adults meet criteria for one or more of these disorders. Summaries of the reports to be given at the conference follow.

History Of Sexual And Physical Abuse Tied To Depression And Suicide Risk In Irritable Bowel Syndrome

CHAPEL HILL - People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) who report having been abused sexually or physically - especially those who were abused sexually during childhood - may be at increased risk of depression and suicide, according to a study led by researchers at UNC-CH School of Medicine.

The study team, headed by Dr. William Whitehead, professor of medicine and co-director of the UNC Center for Functional Gastrointestinal and Motility Disorders, also confirmed earlier findings of a strong link between childhood sexual abuse and the development of IBS during adulthood. "Physicians should recognize the discovery of abuse in IBS patients as a marker that the patient is at significant risk for depression and suicide," Whitehead says. "These patients may require assessment and perhaps referral to mental health services."

The study analyzed questionnaire responses of 389 patients at gastroenterology clinics in Washington and North Carolina. All forms of abuse, in childhood or adulthood, were significantly associated with self-reported depression and self-reported suicide attempts. Prior studies using intensive interviews in GI clinics have identified a history of early sexual abuse in about 45 percent of IBS patients.

IBS is characterized by a combination of persistent and recurrent abdominal pain and abnormal bowel habit (diarrhea, constipation, or both). Pain often begins after eating and goes away after a bowel movement. Other symptoms are bloating, passage of mucus, and a feeling of incomplete emptying. IBS is not caused by structural, biochemical or infectious abnormalities. Rather, it is considered a dysregulation, or abnormality, of brain-bowel function. Ten to 20 percent of all adults experience IBS symptoms.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome: The Impact Of Urgency And Incontinence

CHAPEL HILL - A study headed by a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill confirms that people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have a poorer quality of life (QOL) than patients with other GI complaints, such as peptic ulcers. The new study points to an additional pair of symptoms that have a negative impact on QOL: fecal incontinence and urgency - a sudden urge to rush to the toilet. Results of a questionnaire given to 2,410 GI clinic patients in three states found incontinence three times as common and urgency about five times as common among people with IBS.

"Those symptoms seem to us clinically as having the greatest impact on patient's lives," says Dr. William E. Whitehead, professor of medicine and co-director of the UNC Center for Functional Gastrointestinal and Motility Disorders. "They sometimes result in patients secluding themselves, afraid to go out. It could be that the impaired quality of life that's been generically associated with IBS is due primarily to those symptoms."

According to Whitehead, these are treatable symptoms, but patients will not usually disclose having them. "Physicians treating patients with IBS should ask about those symptoms and be aware that there are both medical and biofeedback approaches to their treatment."

New 'Quality Of Life' Test May Aid Treatment Of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

CHAPEL HILL - Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed and validated a test that measures the quality of life (QOL) of people diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, IBS.

The new instrument quantifies a person's QOL and should offer a clearer view of how well the treatment of IBS is progressing, according to Dr. Douglas A. Drossman, professor of medicine and co-director of the UNC Center for Functional Gastrointestinal and Motility Disorders.

"You can't just look at disease measures when trying to understand the impact of a condition on the individual. It has a much more global effect on their psychosocial functioning, their ability to socialize, to go to work. Those are not captured by physiologic measurements or symptom assessment," Drossman says. "The IBS-QOL is now a fully validated instrument on the quality of life, one that contains items that address patients' needs - such as the need to be near a bathroom, the need to socialize."


Note to reporters: Contact Dr. William Whitehead at 919-966-5599; email: Contact Dr. Douglas Drossman at 919- 966-0142; email: UNC-CH School of Medicine media contact is Lynn Wooten, 919-966-6046, or email

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