Issue: 2008 > January > original article

Gastrointestinal symptoms are still common in a general Western population

L.A.S. van Kerkhoven, T. Eikendal, R.J.F. Laheij, M.G.H. van Oijen, J.B.M.J. Jansen


Background: Results from studies conducted in the
late 1980s and early 1990s showed that gastrointestinal
symptoms were common among the general population.
Meanwhile, lifestyle habits have changed and important
treatment options have been introduced. This might have
influenced symptom prevalence.
Methods: This study aimed to describe the current prevalence of upper and lower gastrointestinal symptoms within the general population. For this purpose, a demographically representative sample of the Dutch population within the city of Nijmegen and surrounding areas was selected after careful comparison with demographic figures from a government demographic database. Participants were invited to fill
in a valid self-report questionnaire about gastrointestinal
symptoms and prevalence figures were calculated.
Results: A total of 5000 questionnaires was sent and 1616 (32%) were returned. Of these, 839 (52%) subjects reported having had upper (43%) or lower (38%) gastrointestinal symptoms in the past four weeks. The most prevalent individual symptoms reported were flatulence (47%), abdominal rumbling (40%), bloating (37%), alternating solid and loose stools (31%), belching
(25%) and postprandial fullness (25%). People who smoked or used a proton pump inhibitor had an increased risk for reporting upper as well as lower gastrointestinal symptoms (OR 1.99; 95% CI 1.56 to 2.55, and OR 1.37; 95% CI 1.01 to 1.75, respectively for smoking; and OR 3.17; 95% CI 2.17 to 4.72, and
OR 2.14; 95% CI 1.49 to 3.08, respectively for PPIs).
Conclusion: Both upper and lower gastrointestinal
symptoms are very common in a representative sample of a general Western population.