Age Differences in Core Symptoms and Symptom Relationships in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Network Analysis

Am J Gastroenterol. 2023 May 8. doi: 10.14309/ajg.0000000000002280. Online ahead of print.


Pei-Lin Yang 1Kendra J Kamp 2Robert L Burr 2Hsin-Yi Jean Tang 2Adrian Dobra 2 3Robert J Shulman 4 5Margaret M Heitkemper 2


Author information

1School of Nursing, National Defense Medical Center, Taipei, Taiwan.

2Department of Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Informatics, School of Nursing, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA.

3Department of Statistics, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA.

4Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA.

5Children's Nutrition Research Center, Houston, Texas, USA.


Introduction: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder of gut-brain interaction, characterized by symptoms of abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits. It often co-occurs with extraintestinal somatic and psychological symptoms. However, the nature of the interrelationships among these symptoms is unclear. Although previous studies have noted age differences in IBS prevalence and specific symptom severity, it remains unknown whether specific symptoms and symptom relationships may differ by age.

Methods: Symptom data were collected in 355 adults with IBS (mean age 41.4 years, 86.2% female). Network analysis was used to examine the interrelationships among 28 symptoms and to identify the core symptoms driving the symptom structure between young (≤45 years) vs older (>45 years) adults with IBS. We evaluated 3 network properties between the 2 age groups: network structure, edge (connection) strength, and global strength.

Results: In both age groups, fatigue was the top core symptom. Anxiety was a second core symptom in the younger age group, but not the older age group. Intestinal gas and/or bloating symptoms also exerted considerable influences in both age groups. The overall symptom structure and connectivity were found to be similar regardless of age.

Discussion: Network analysis suggests fatigue is a critical target for symptom management in adults with IBS, regardless of age. Comorbid anxiety is likely an important treatment focus for young adults with IBS. Rome V criteria update could consider the importance of intestinal gas and bloating symptoms. Additional replication with larger diverse IBS cohorts is warranted to verify our results.

© Copyright 2013-2024 GI Health Foundation. All rights reserved.
This site is maintained as an educational resource for US healthcare providers only. Use of this website is governed by the GIHF terms of use and privacy statement.