Chronic non-specific abdominal complaints in general practice: a prospective study on management, patient health status and course of complaints

Henriëtte A M van den Heuvel-Janssen, Jeroen A J Borghouts, Jean W M Muris, Bart W Koes, Lex M Bouter, J André Knottnerus
BMC Family Practice 2006, 7: 12

BACKGROUND: While in general practice chronic non-specific abdominal complaints are common, there is insufficient data on the clinical course and the management of these complaints. Aim of this study was to present a primary care based profile of these chronic complaints including health care involvement, health status and clinical course.

METHODS: Thirty general practitioners (GPs) and patients from their practices participated in a prospective follow-up study. All patients and GPs were asked to complete questionnaires at baseline and at 6, 12 and 18 months of follow-up. The GPs provided information on diagnostic and therapeutic management and on referral concerning 619 patients with chronic non-specific abdominal complaints, while 291 patients provided information about health status and clinical course of the complaints.

RESULTS: When asked after 18 months of follow-up, 51,7% of the patients reported an equal or worsened severity of complaints. General health perception was impaired and patients had high scores on SCL-anxiety and SCL-depression scales. Diagnostic tests other than physical examination and laboratory tests were not frequently used. Medication was the most frequent type of treatment. The persistence of chronic non-specific abdominal complaints was quite stable.

CONCLUSION: Once non-specific chronic abdominal complaints have become labelled as chronic by the attending physician, little improvement can be expected. The impact on patients' physiological and psychological well-being is large. GPs use a variety of diagnostic and therapeutic strategies. Research into the evidence base of currently applied management strategies is recommended.

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