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Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology
Volume 16, Issue 11, Pages 801-805
Original Article

Sexual Abuse in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: To Ask or Not to Ask – That Is the Question

Alexandra Ilnyckyj and Charles N Bernstein

Section of Gastroenterology, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Received 13 June 2002; Accepted 16 October 2002

Copyright © 2002 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


BACKGROUND: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common and costly disorder in Canada. The paucity of medical treatment underscores the importance of examining every element of the management approach. Data exist supporting an increased prevalence of abuse among individuals with IBS. Importantly, the pathophysiology underlying the link between abuse and IBS is increasingly understood. Treatment recommendations by opinion leaders support an abuse inquiry. However, many clinicians view abuse inquiry as an ethical dilemma.

METHOD: Canadian gastroenterologists were surveyed to determine current practice patterns and to identify barriers to inquiry. Barriers cited by clinicians were explored within an ethical context.

RESULTS: Abuse inquiry is not universally practised in Canada. Fifty-four per cent of the membership of Canadian Association of Gastroenterologists responded to the survey. They reported inquiring into abuse histories in approximately 50% of patients with IBS. The frequency of inquiry declined when male patients were considered. The primal barriers cited were time constraints (25%), personal comfort with abuse issues (25%) and lack of resources for addressing the abuse (33%). Importantly, only a minority (10%), cited abuse history as irrelevant to the management of the patient.

INTERPRETATION: Physicians identify significant barriers to pursuing an inquiry into abuse. However, a minority cited ‘clinical irrelevance’ as a primal barrier, the implicit statement being that the abuse history has clinical relevance. This view is consistent with opinion leaders and published treatment recommendations. Therefore, by not inquiring into the abuse history, physicians are not fulfilling their ethical responsibility to the patient. Physicians need to resolve their barriers to inquiry. Furthermore, they need to familiarize themselves with treatment recommendations and include this review in their consultation.