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How Common Is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common functional gastrointestinal disorder, meaning there is no structural or biochemical problem with the GI system. Scientists believe that between 7 percent to 16 percent of the U.S. population has IBS and 10 percent to 15 percent of people worldwide. About 40 percent of people with IBS have mild symptoms, 35 percent experience moderate symptoms, and 25 percent experience severe IBS.1,2

It generally takes someone two to three years to be accurately diagnosed with IBS. IBS tends to be under-diagnosed because people avoid going to the doctor due to the significant stigma associated with IBS and its symptoms. It has been reported that only 30% of people with symptoms of IBS, mainly IBS with diarrhea, will talk to a physician.3

Prevalence of IBS by gender, age, income, and genetics

IBS is more often diagnosed in women than in men.2,3 Prevalence rates in women are approximately 1.5- to 3-fold higher than those in men.3

About 50 percent of the people with IBS reported experiencing their first symptoms before the age of 35 years. However, IBS may occur at any age. People over age 50 tend to report milder pain, and those over age 65 are more likely to report having symptoms for over 1 year before going to the doctor.3

Studies show that IBS in people at all economic levels. However, higher rates of IBS are found in people working in professional and managerial roles, which doctors speculate may be due to the higher level of perceived stress or greater access to health care.3

Since IBS clusters in families, doctors believe that both genetics and early-life influences impact the condition.2,3

Symptoms and IBS statistics

Most people with IBS experience symptoms four times each month for a period of five days each time when they are first diagnosed. One year after the initial diagnosis, about 30 percent to 45 percent of patients will be symptom-free for long periods. After 10 years, approximately 50 percent to 70 percent of people with IBS report persistent symptoms.

For people who seem to be in remission, 45 percent report other gastrointestinal symptoms, such as indigestion, at rates up to seven times higher than the general population.3

Impact of IBS on quality of life

Direct costs associated with IBS are estimated to be at least $1 billion per year in the U.S. and $21 billion worldwide. IBS accounts for 2.4 to 3.5 million doctor visits each year in the U.S.1-3

In an example of how much IBS impacts people’s lives, one study found that people with IBS would give up 10 to 15 years of life expectancy in exchange for an instant cure.

Women with IBS are 47 percent to 55 percent more likely to have unnecessary abdominal surgery performed, such as an appendectomy, hysterectomy or ovarian surgery.1,3

Depression and anxiety frequently coexist with IBS, along with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and chronic back or pelvic pain.2,3

IBS and mortality

People with IBS have a higher rate of developing colorectal cancer in the first year after diagnosis, but after that have no greater risk than other people.3

Compared to the general population, there has been no increase in death in people with IBS.3

Written by: Truc Thanh and Jessica Johns Pool | Last reviewed: October 2019
  1. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Statistics. https://www.aboutibs.org/facts-about-ibs/statistics.html. Accessed on August 29, 2019.
  2. Ford AC, Lacy BE, Talley NJ. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. N Engl J Med 2017; 376:2566-2578 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra1607547
  3. Canavan C, West J, Card T. The epidemiology of irritable bowel syndrome. Clin Epidemiol. 2014;6:71-80.