Irritable bowel syndrome is a frequently diagnosed gastrointestinal condition in general practice. Managing this chronic condition requires a co-ordinated effort between patient and doctor.


To explore the patterns of treatment and healthcare utilization of irritable bowel syndrome cases in a Swedish primary care setting.


All cases with a registered diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome were identified retrospectively for a 5-year period through computerized medical records at three primary healthcare centres in Sweden. Documentation of diagnosis, healthcare visits, treatments, investigations, medications, referrals, laboratory tests, mental and demographic data were retrieved from the records.


Of all 723 irritable bowel syndrome patients identified, only 37% had a follow-up appointment to their General Practitioner during the study period. For 80%, the General Practitioner initiated some treatment during the initial consultation and 75% were prescribed medication. Fibre and bulking laxatives and acid-suppressive drugs were the most common medication. Almost a quarter was referred for complementary investigations at hospital, only 8.9% of the irritable bowel syndrome patients were referred to a specialist investigation. Laboratory investigations varied and were ordered more frequently (P = 0.05) for men.


Irritable bowel syndrome patients appear not to be heavy utilizers of primary care and, of those who attend, the majority are managed by their General Practitioner.