Conference Coverage

Delays of 1-2+ years in IBD diagnosis are common, patients say



– Delays in diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) appear to be very common and often extensive, a new survey of U.S. patients suggests. Nearly two-thirds said their diagnosis was delayed past symptom onset for more than a year, and almost half reported a delay of more than 2 years.

Dr. Ryan C. Ungaro of the division of gastroenterology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York

Dr. Ryan C. Ungaro

On average, patients who experienced diagnosis delays said they’d seen an average of 3.5 physicians. “Most patients reported that they received an uncertain or wrong diagnosis by their primary care physician or gastroenterologist,” said study coauthor Ryan C. Ungaro, MD, of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, in an interview prior to the presentation of the study findings at the Crohn’s & Colitis Congress - a partnership of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and the American Gastroenterological Association.

“Working at a tertiary care IBD center, we noticed that many patients tell us it took them a long time to get diagnosed with Crohn’s disease [CD] or ulcerative colitis [UC],” said Dr. Ungaro. “There are some studies on delay in diagnosis in Europe but none in the U.S. We hypothesized that diagnostic delay is a major issue for IBD patients in the U.S.”

The study authors offered a survey to 2,341 patients with IBD; 1,121 responded to the questions. Of those, 68% reported their diagnosis was delayed, with 64% reporting a delay of over 1 year and 48% reporting a delay over 2 years.

Compared with those with UC, patients with CD were more likely to report more than 1-year delays (70% vs. 48%; P less than .0001) and more than 2-year delays (52% vs. 37%; P = .0008).

Patients who reported delays said they saw an average of 3.5 physicians before getting an IBD diagnosis. The patients most commonly blamed their incorrect diagnosis on primary care providers (58%) and gastroenterologists (28%).

“Most likely, CD may be misdiagnosed because the common presenting symptoms – abdominal pain, diarrhea – are also seen in other common gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome,” Dr. Ungaro said. “In contrast, most patients with UC present with rectal bleeding which is a ‘red flag’ symptom that is more likely to get worked up.”

In some cases, patients blamed themselves, reporting “that they personally did not feel their symptoms warranted work-up or were too embarrassed by their symptoms to tell anyone,” Dr. Ungaro said. “The other theme that was noted was access – delay or difficulty seeing a gastroenterologist.”

Going forward, “diagnostic delay may be improved through patient education regarding awareness of alarm symptoms for IBD,” said gastroenterologist and study lead author Zane Gallinger, MD, FRCPC, of the University of Toronto at Mount Sinai Hospital, in an interview. According to him, these symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, family history of CD, perianal abscess, and fistula and fever.

At the primary care level, Dr. Gallinger said that noninvasive tests such as fecal calprotectin can help identify patients with inflammatory conditions and that “more rapid access to gastroenterologists for earlier diagnosis of IBD can improve patient outcomes.”

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation funded the study. Dr. Gallinger reported relationships with Takeda and AbbVie.

SOURCE: Gallinger Z et al. Crohn’s & Colitis Congress, Abstract P030.

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