Adverse events in trials of licensed drugs for irritable bowel syndrome with constipation or diarrhea: Systematic review and meta-analysis

Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2022 Jun;34(6):e14279. doi: 10.1111/nmo.14279.Epub 2021 Oct 20.


Brigida Barberio 1Edoardo V Savarino 1Christopher J Black 2 3Alexander C Ford 2 3


Author information

1Department of Surgery, Oncology and Gastroenterology (DISCOG), Gastroenterology Unit, University of Padova-Azienda Ospedaliera di Padova, Padova, Italy.

2Leeds Gastroenterology Institute, St. James's University Hospital, Leeds, UK.

3Leeds Institute of Medical Research at St. James's, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK.


Background: Nocebo effects occurring in patients receiving placebo frequently impact on adverse events reported in randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Therefore, we conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to assess the proportion of patients randomized to placebo or active drug experiencing any adverse event in trials of licensed drugs for IBS with constipation (IBS-C) or diarrhea (IBS-D), and to estimate the risk of developing adverse events among patients randomized to placebo.

Methods: We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE CLASSIC and EMBASE, and the Cochrane central register of controlled trials (through June 2021) to identify RCTs comparing licensed drugs with placebo in adults with IBS-C or IBS-D. We generated Forest plots of pooled adverse event rates in both active drug and placebo arms and pooled risk differences (RDs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs).

Key results: There were 21 RCTs of licensed drugs versus placebo in IBS-C (5953 patients placebo) and 17 in IBS-D (3854 patients placebo). Overall, 34.9% and 46.9% of placebo patients in IBS-C and IBS-D trials, respectively, developed at least one adverse event, with a statistically significantly higher risk of any adverse event and withdrawal due to an adverse event with active drug. In IBS-C and IBS-D trials, rates of each individual adverse event were generally higher with active drug. However, in IBS-C trials, only diarrhea or headache was significantly more common with active drug (RD 0.066 (95% CI 0.043-0.088) and RD 0.011 (95% CI 0.002-0.021), respectively), and in IBS-D trials only constipation, nausea, or abdominal pain (RD 0.096 (95% CI 0.054-0.138), 0.014 (95% CI 0.002-0.027), and 0.018 (95% CI 0.002-0.034), respectively).

Conclusions & inferences: Patients with IBS randomized to placebo have a high risk of reporting adverse events, which might relate to both nocebo and non-nocebo factors. Although patients' expectations and psychosocial factors may be involved, further understanding of the mechanisms are important to control or optimize these effects in RCTs, as well as in clinical practice.



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