According to a 2006 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) often goes unrecognized and untreated in women with chronic pelvic pain. Pain in the pelvic region may be steady or intermittent, and is considered chronic if it lasts for six months or more. It affects between 33-39% of women at some point in their lives. The relentless pain – which may be caused by any organ system or disease and may have multiple contributing factors – reduces quality of life for sufferers.

IBS is a chronic, often debilitating, functional gastrointestinal disease with symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, and altered bowel habits such as constipation or diarrhea, or both. IBS is estimated to affect 13-20% of Canadians, and is significantly more common in women than in men.

In a study spanning the years 1993-2000, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill surveyed 987 female patients at a chronic pelvic pain clinic. Thirty-five percent of the women met the Rome I criteria for IBS but almost half of these women had not received a diagnosis of IBS from their physicians. Additionally, more than 67% of the women who were diagnosed with IBS did not receive any treatment recommendations from their physicians. The researchers suggest that the diagnosis and treatment rate is even lower in a general gynecology office than in this specialized chronic pelvic pain clinic.

One symptom of IBS is abdominal pain. Other symptoms, such as altered stool consistency, can also cause pain. There are medications available to treat the many varied symptoms of IBS yet this study demonstrates that physicians are not prescribing relief to their patients with chronic pelvic pain. Recognizing and treating pain due to IBS may decrease the number of women suffering from pelvic pain.

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 156 – July/August 2006