IBS is the second most common cause of work absenteeism in India: Study

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Over 3000 patients and 300 medical practitioners participated in the survey

A study conducted by the HCFI, a leading National Health NGO has revealed that about 5-10 per cent of the population surveyed experiences symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation or incomplete evacuation. Yet, a majority of them do not seek medical help.

The study aimed at analysing IBS from the physician and patient’s point of view – awareness about the disease, its impact on day-to-day life and treatment options. It is interesting to note that even though 84.6 per cent of the respondents felt that abdominal pain or other symptoms of IBS cannot be ignored, an overwhelming 58 per cent of them use over-the-counter medications for relief and did not see a doctor. Given the impact of IBS on a person’s day-to-day life, it is important to raise awareness about IBS amongst both the medical fraternity and patients about IBS.

The results of the survey conducted amongst the medical practitioners on the treatment methodologies for IBS revealed that almost 55.9 per cent of the doctors use a symptom-directed, multidrug approach in the treatment of IBS; 54.5 per cent doctors prescribe antispasmodics; and another 30.8 per cent prescribe antibiotics, antispasmodics.

About 80 of the doctors surveyed believe that an ideal antispasmodic for the treatment of IBS should offer relief from symptoms of abdominal pain/ discomfort, bloating/ flatulence and complete evacuation and also possess minimum side effects. Peppermint oil has emerged as a good option since almost half of the participating doctors feel that it is effective in relieving abdominal pain, gas, bloating and fecal urgency through its selective effect on the smooth muscles of the intestine.

Speaking about this, Dr Philip Abraham, Consultant Gastroenterology, PD Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai said, “IBS is a chronic common condition of the digestive system and is second only to the common cold as a cause of absence from work. This condition often begins in young adulthood with women twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with it. Most people with IBS have a mild form of the disorder and can cope quite well without getting any treatment. However, sometimes, the symptoms are so strong that it can significantly affect everyday lives, causing distress. A number of natural therapies have been used for the treatment of IBS. It is possible to relieve the symptoms of this condition through antispasmodics. Peppermint oil has emerged as a safe treatment option for the condition.”

Dr Chetan Bhatt, Gastroenterologist, Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, Mumbai, opined, “Currently, there are many challenges that cloud the diagnosis and subsequent management of IBS. Some of these include lack of consistent biological markers, reliance on patient symptoms for diagnosis, difficulty in quantifying symptoms objectively, varying symptoms among individuals, and the fact that many organic conditions can masquerade as IBS. Lack of awareness about the condition among people and the medical fraternity at large further exacerbates the problem.”

Speaking about the need to raise awareness Dr KK Aggarwal – President, HCFI said, “A simple mantra that everyone must remember is that if there is no pain, it can’t be IBS. Raising awareness about the disease incidence is key.”

Some interesting insights from the patient survey include the following:

  • 84.6 per cent said that pain in abdomen and altered bowel habits cannot be ignored
  • 58.3 per cent people self-treat symptoms with over-the-counter drugs
  • 33.3 per cent feel that the condition is not serious enough to contact a doctor
  • 8.3 per cent would seek no treatment at all
  • 46 per cent say IBS hampers their daily life
  • 50 per cent of them said they would take multiple drugs including antibiotics, antispasmodics etc., each time they have an attack
  • 41.6 per cent opted for diet change or probiotics for each attack