OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to systematically review published literature about the prevalence, incidence, and natural history of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in North America. METHODS: A computer-assisted search of MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Current Contents/Science Edition databases was performed independently by two investigators. Study selection criteria included: 1) North American populationbased sample of adults; 2) objective diagnostic criteria for IBS (i.e., Rome or Manning criteria); and 3) publication in full manuscript form in English. Eligible articles were reviewed in a duplicate and independent manner. Data extracted were converted into individual tables and presented in descriptive form. RESULTS: The prevalence of IBS in North America ranges from 3% to 20%, with most prevalence estimates ranging from 10% to 15%. The prevalences of diarrhea-predominant and constipation-predominant IBS are both approximately 5%. Published prevalence estimates by gender range from 2:1 female predominance to a ratio of 1:1. Constipation-predominant IBS is more common in female individuals. The prevalence of IBS varies minimally with age. No true population-based incidence studies or natural history studies were found. In one cohort surveyed on two occasions 1 yr apart, 9% of subjects who were free of IBS at baseline reported IBS at follow-up producing an onset rate of 67 per 1000 person-years. In all, 38% of patients meeting criteria for IBS did not meet IBS criteria at 1-yr follow-up. CONCLUSION: Approximately 30 million people in North America meet the diagnostic criteria for IBS. However, data about the natural history of IBS is quite sparse and renewed efforts should be focused at developing appropriately designed trials of the epidemiology of IBS.
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