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Summary

Aim : To perform a systematic review of the literature with three objectives: (1) to compare the health related quality of life (HRQoL) of patients with irritable bowel syndrome with that of healthy controls; (2) to compare the HRQoL of irritable bowel syndrome patients to those with other diseases; and (3) to examine therapy-associated changes in HRQoL of irritable bowel syndrome patients.

Methods : Searches of all English and non-English articles from 1980 to 2001 were performed in Medline and Embase, and two investigators performed independent data abstraction.

Results : Seventeen articles met our selection criteria. 13 studies addressed objective no. 1; 11 showed a significant reduction in HRQoL among irritable bowel syndrome patients. Of these, only one study was considered of high quality. Four studies addressed objective no. 2, none of which was considered to be high quality in addressing this objective. Four trials (three of high quality) addressed objective no. 3. One showed that symptomatic improvement with Leupron compared to placebo was accompanied an improvement only in the comparative health domain of the HRQoL. The second study reported significant positive changes in HRQoL after 12 weeks of cognitive behavioural therapy. The third report of two placebo-controlled studies indicated significant improvement with alosetron on most domains of Irritable Bowel Syndrome Quality of Life Questionnaire.

Conclusions : (i) There is reasonable evidence for a decrease in HRQoL in patients with moderate to severe irritable bowel syndrome; however, the data are conflicting regarding the impact of irritable bowel syndrome on HRQoL in population-based studies of nonconsulters. (ii) HRQoL in irritable bowel syndrome patients is impaired to a degree comparable to other chronic disorders such as GERD and depression. (iii) A therapeutic response in irritable bowel syndrome-related pain has a corresponding improvement in HRQoL. (iv) Limitations of the literature include focusing on moderate-severe irritable bowel syndrome in referral centres, and lack of appropriate controls