Don’t wait for patients to bring up their GI symptoms


Nearly three-quarters of Americans would wait before discussing GI symptoms with a health care provider if their bowel frequency or symptoms changed, with more than a quarter overall waiting for symptoms to become severe, according to a new survey from the American Gastroenterological Association.

Nearly 40% of people said GI symptoms had disrupted everyday activities such as exercising, running errands, and spending time with family or friends, but despite these disruptions, 30% of people said they would only discuss their bowel-related concerns if their doctor brought it up first. In response, the AGA launched “Trust Your Gut,” an awareness campaign aimed at shortening the time from the onset of bowel symptoms to discussions with health care providers.

Rajeev Jain, MD, a gastroenterologist with Texas Digestive Disease Consultants

Dr. Rajeev Jain

“So many patients are either fearful or embarrassed about discussing their digestive symptoms such that they delay care unless the health care provider brings it up,” said Rajeev Jain, MD, a gastroenterologist with Texas Digestive Disease Consultants, AGA patient education adviser and a Trust Your Gut spokesperson.

“This potential delay could be detrimental in some cases, such as bleeding related to colon cancer,” he said. “If diagnosed sooner, an operation or chemotherapy could lead to treatment and a cure in those cases, versus advanced cancer that may be incurable.”

The AGA Trust Your Gut survey, conducted by Kelton Global during May 9-11, 2022, included 1,010 respondents from a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults.

Struggling with the issue

About 28% of respondents said they would see a clinician immediately if their bowel frequency or symptoms changed. However, 72% said they would wait, and on top of that, 27% said they would wait until the condition became severe or didn’t resolve over time. Women were more likely than men to say they would wait, at 72% versus 64%.

Overall, 39% of respondents said bowel issues have stopped them from doing some type of activity in the past year. Men were more likely than women to say that bowel issues have affected their ability to do an activity, at 44% versus 35%.

Andrea Shin, MD, a gastroenterology specialist and assistant professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine

Dr. Andrea Shin

“Typically, when it comes to functional or motility disorders or bowel dysfunction, we tend to see a higher prevalence in women, so this was somewhat surprising to see,” said Andrea Shin, MD, a gastroenterology specialist and assistant professor of medicine at Indiana University, Indianapolis, and AGA patient education adviser designate.

“Part of this difference may be related to the communication barrier and how sex or gender affects that relationship between a clinician and a patient,” she said.

The reasons for patients’ reluctance varies, but themes of uncertainty and embarrassment are prevalent. About 33% said they’re not sure whether the symptoms are a problem, 31% said they hope the symptoms improve on their own, 23% said it’s embarrassing, and 12% don’t know what to tell the doctor. Men were more likely than women to say they don’t know what to say to a doctor about their symptoms, at 15% versus 9%.


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