Objective: To evaluate the long-term course and prognosis associated with the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and to determine the influence of an effective physician–patient relationship on subsequent health care use.
Design: Prospective review of medical records.
Setting: Tertiary referral center.
Patients: 112 consecutive Olmsted County, Minnesota, residents who were first diagnosed with IBS at the Mayo Clinic during the period 1961-1963.
Results: The median follow-up was 29 years (range, 1 to 32 years) and patients made a median of 2 return visits for IBS-related symptoms (range, 0 to 12 visits). In addition to abdominal pain, diarrhea (reported by 50% of patients) was the predominant bowel symptom at diagnosis. Organic gastrointestinal disease occurred in 10 patients a median of 15 years after diagnosis of IBS. Survival in patients with IBS did not differ from expected survival (27 deaths; median survival > 30 years after initial diagnosis). A positive physician–patient interaction, defined a priori using objective criteria in the written record, was associated with fewer return visits for IBS. Of the eight variables examined, notations in the medical record about psychosocial history, precipitating factors, and discussion of diagnosis and treatment with patients were associated with fewer return visits for IBS-related symptoms.
Conclusions: When diagnosed according to current criteria, IBS is associated with a good prognosis and the diagnosis is unlikely to be changed to that of an organic disease during follow-up. A positive physician–patient interaction may be related to reduced use of ambulatory health services by patients with IBS.