What determines severity among patients with painful functional bowel disorders? Academic Article uri icon

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  • OBJECTIVE: For patients with painful functional bowel disorders (FBD), physicians frequently make diagnostic and treatment decisions based on the severity of the pain reported; patients with severe painful complaints may receive extensive diagnostic tests and treatments. Therefore, it would be important to determine what clinical factors contribute to the judgment of severity among patients with FBD. The aim of this study was to identify the psychosocial, behavioral, and physiological (visceral sensitivity) factors that predicted severity in patients with moderate to severe FBD. METHODS: Two hundred eleven female patients with moderate or severe FBD, as determined by the Functional Bowel Disorder Severity Index, entered a multicenter treatment trial at the University of North Carolina and the University of Toronto. Patients filled out diary cards and were given questionnaires and physiological testing (rectal sensitivity using barostat). Analysis of covariance and logistic regression adjusting for demographic factors were performed to determine which factors distinguished patients at study entry with moderate from those with severe FBD. RESULTS: Patients with severe FBD were characterized by greater depression and psychological distress, poorer physical functioning and health-related quality of life, more maladaptive coping strategies, and greater health care utilization. There was a trend for patients with severe FBD to have lower rectal sensation thresholds. Regression analysis indicated that severity was best predicted by behavioral features: poorer daily physical function, difficulties related to eating, more phone calls to the physician, and more days in bed for GI symptoms. CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that patient illness behaviors are best correlated with severity in FBD. The use of psychopharmacological agents (e.g., antidepressants) and psychological treatments to treat psychiatric comorbidity and to improve behavioral coping styles is recommended. Training to help medical physicians identify and respond to psychosocial and behavioral features of these conditions is likely to improve patient satisfaction with their care and the clinical outcome.


  • Drossman, Douglas A
  • Whitehead, William E
  • Toner, Brenda B
  • Diamant, Nicholas
  • Hu, Yuming JB
  • Bangdiwala, Shrikant
  • Jia, Huanguang

publication date

  • April 2000