IBS Affects More Than Just the Patient

Irritable bowel symptoms may put strain on a relationship but staying close may help

(RxWiki News) Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be painful and interfere with many aspects of life. Partners of people with IBS may not feel the physical pain but they are affected by it.

In a recent study, more severe symptoms of IBS were linked to feeling more burdened by the disorder for both patients and their partners. However, partners who felt their relationship was strong reported feeling less burdened by the disorder.

The authors suggested that IBS affects partners and relationships. So patient care for people with IBS could be improved by considering both patient and partner.

"Ask a doctor about managing IBS symptoms."

Researchers led by Reuben K. Wong, MD, at the Center for Functional GI and Motility Disorders of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, interviewed 152 patients with IBS and their partners.

Each patient rated the severity of IBS symptoms. Both patients and their partners also rated their feelings of burden from the disorder, relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction.

Overall, the level of burden reported by patients and partners was related to the severity of IBS symptoms. As symptoms got worse, the feelings of burden increased.

The more burdened people felt, the less sexual satisfaction they reported. A total of 31.3 percent of partners in the study said that they believed that IBS frequently or almost always interfered with their sexual relationship.

However, the study also found that the quality of the relationship was linked to feelings of burden caused by the disorder. When people rated high levels of relationship quality, they reported feeling less burdened by their partner’s symptoms.

The authors concluded that partners of those with IBS are burdened by the disease, much like partners of people with other chronic diseases.

They also concluded that relationship quality is related to perceived burden and that considering partners in patient care could be helpful for people with IBS.

Published alongside this study was an editorial comment from Brennan M.R. Spiegel, MD, MSHS, of the Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. He said that the fact that partners feel burdened is not surprising.

Dr. Spiegel said that the link between perceived burden and relationship quality may be the most useful aspect of this study. While the study did not say if it is the quality of the relationship that caused lower levels of burden, Dr. Spiegel speculated that improving relationships may lower the burden of IBS on both patient and family. On the other hand, improving symptoms may help to improve relationships.

Dr. Spiegel noted that the partner relationship is an often ignored factor in chronic diseases. He said, “Shared decision-making always starts with the patient but often should include family, partners, and close friends. This may include counseling and education not only for the patient but also for those who care about the patient—and not only in IBS, but in all chronic disorders. In short, providers should bear in mind that understanding IBS burden often requires looking beyond the patient.”

The study and commentary were published in the February issue of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. The study was funded by Takeda Pharmaceuticals. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
February 13, 2013
Last Updated:
February 13, 2013