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Irritable bowel symptoms and the development of common mental disorders and functional somatic syndromes identified in secondary care – a long-term, population-based study

Authors Poulsen CH, Eplov LF, Hjorthøj C, Eliasen M, Skovbjerg S, Dantoft TM, Schröder A, Jørgensen T

Received 9 May 2017

Accepted for publication 3 July 2017

Published 31 July 2017 Volume 2017:9 Pages 393—402

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/CLEP.S141344

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Colin Mak

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Professor Irene Petersen


Chalotte Heinsvig Poulsen,1,2 Lene Falgaard Eplov,2 Carsten Hjorthøj,2 Marie Eliasen,1 Sine Skovbjerg,1 Thomas Meinertz Dantoft,1 Andreas Schröder,3 Torben Jørgensen1,4,5

1Research Centre for Prevention and Health, Capital Region of Denmark, Glostrup, 2Copenhagen University Hospital, Mental Health Centre Copenhagen, Hellerup, 3Research Clinic for Functional Disorders and Psychosomatics, Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus, 4Department of Public Health, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, 5The Faculty of Medicine, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark

Objective: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is associated with mental vulnerability, and half of patients report comorbid somatic and mental symptoms. We aimed to investigate the relationship between an IBS symptom continuum and the subsequent development of common mental disorders (CMDs) and functional somatic syndromes (FSSs).
Methods and study design: A longitudinal population-based study comprising two 5-year follow-up studies, Dan-MONICA 1 (1982–1987) and Inter99 (1999–2004), recruited from the western part of Copenhagen County. The total study population (n = 7,278) was divided into symptom groups according to the degree of IBS definition fulfillment at baseline and/or follow-up and was followed until December 2013 in Danish central registries. Cox regression was used for the analyses, adjusting for age, sex, length of education and cohort membership. In a subsequent analysis, we adjusted for mental vulnerability as a risk factor for both CMDs and FSSs, including IBS.
Results: Over a 5-year period, 51% patients had no IBS symptoms, 17% patients had IBS symptoms without abdominal pain, 22% patients had IBS symptoms including abdominal pain and 10% patients fulfilled the IBS definition. IBS and IBS symptoms including abdominal pain were significantly associated with the development of CMDs and other FSSs identified in secondary care. When adjusting for mental vulnerability, IBS and IBS symptoms including abdominal pain were no longer associated with CMDs, but the significant relationship to other FSSs remained.
Conclusion: In a clinical setting, the perspective should be broadened to individuals not fulfilling the symptom cluster of IBS but who report frequent abdominal pain. Additionally, it is important to combine symptom-based criteria of IBS with psychosocial markers such as mental vulnerability, because it could guide clinicians in decisions regarding prognosis and treatment.

Keywords: functional gastrointestinal symptoms, abdominal pain, comorbidity, somatization, neuroticism

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