This study examines factors affecting the frequency of physician consultations by individuals with functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGD) in a group of subjects with functional dyspepsia or irritable bowel syndrome. Systematic selection of persons who were already seeing a physician for one of these problems was avoided by conducting an epidemiological field study rather than a clinical study.
A representative sample of the German population (N = 2201) completed a questionnaire that included, in addition to the criterion (number of physician visits in the past 12 months), items aimed at identifying the target group and questions about physical symptoms, illness behavior, living situation, personality features, and sociodemographic status (a total of 31 predictors).
Individuals with functional gastrointestinal disorders who consulted a physician for their gastrointestinal disorders and those who did not differed significantly, especially on psychological measures. The differences between these individuals and the general population were greater for the consulters than for the nonconsulters. Multiple regression analyses yielded nine predictors that explained 40.2% of the variance of the criterion. The best predictors of frequency of physician consultations were the duration of periods with symptoms and psychological factors, such as the severity of depression and the patients' views on the cause of their illness.
The psychopathology seen in people with functional gastrointestinal disorders is of two types: one is a characteristic of the illness itself and the other leads the individual to consult a physician. When gastroenterologists see patients with such disorders, they can assume that they may be dealing with a self-selected group of individuals with psychological stress. Psychological assessment would, therefore, be useful to determine whether a given individual with FGD might benefit from psychotherapy.