Use of Rome criteria for the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome in primary care: a survey among European countries

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Background and objectives

The majority of patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are diagnosed and treated in primary care. The aim of this study was to investigate the implementation of the Rome criteria in daily primary care clinical practice and adherence of general practitioners (GPs) to recommended diagnostic approaches for IBS.

Patients and methods

A survey consisting of 18 questions was distributed across 11 European countries and was used to assess GPs’ diagnostic approach of IBS, the use of Rome criteria in daily practice and GPs’ perspective on the aetiology of the disorder.


Overall, 185 GPs completed the survey. In daily clinical practice, 32% of GPs reported that they usually make a positive diagnosis on the basis of symptoms only, whereas 36% of GPs reported regular use of the Rome criteria to diagnose IBS. Furthermore, 62% of the responders reported that they applied additional diagnostics, such as blood tests, 31% found it necessary to perform endoscopy to make a positive diagnosis of IBS and 29% referred patients with IBS to a specialist. Psychological factors were the most frequently selected potential aetiological factor of IBS (88% of GPs). Overall, 52% of GPs reported systematically including questions on psychological symptoms in the assessment of history of IBS.


Only about one-third of GPs regularly used the Rome criteria to diagnose IBS. In daily primary care practice, IBS largely remains a diagnosis of exclusion. This has implications in terms of GPs’ specialty training and questions the applicability of IBS guidelines in daily care, which advocate an early, positive, symptom-based diagnosis.

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