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Irritable Bowel Syndrome Costs Add Up





New research measures impact on Medicaid and school absences


By Pat Curry
HealthScoutNews Reporter


FRIDAY, Nov. 16 (HealthScoutNews) -- Severe problems with your bowels not only cost the medical system quite a bit of money, but the effects of the disease can also spill over into the next generation.

Kids whose mothers have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) miss about four more days of school each year than kids whose mothers don't have the condition, say researchers in a recent study. One of the most common reasons for a doctor's visit, IBS is a cluster of symptoms that include abdominal pain, frequent bowel movements, diarrhea or constipation. It can be triggered or worsened by stress. About 10 percent of all Americans have the condition.

Coupled with this social cost is the financial burden: Medicaid, the federal medical plan for the poor, spends about 30 percent more on people with IBS than on those without the condition, says a separate study.

Both studies were presented at the recent annual meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology.

In the first study, researchers at the University of Washington and University of North Carolina looked at school absenteeism for 114 children over three years. The mothers of 43 of the children had IBS, and on average, those children missed 11.2 days of school a year. The children whose mothers didn't have the condition missed an average of 7.6 days each year.

This study is an extension of earlier research that showed that children of IBS patients go to the doctor more often and receive more prescriptions. The recent study, however, focused on whether a parent's illness affected how a child's illnesses were treated by the family.

"When we started showing these studies that kids of IBS parents had more health care utilization and school absence, people would say, 'That's just because they are sicker. It's hereditary,'" says study author Rona Levy, a professor in the College of Social Work at the University of Washington and a licensed psychologist. "That compelled us to take a look at it. In fact, these kids probably have a strong learning component going on."

What that means, Levy says, is that children were looking to their parents for cues on how to react when they feel sick. And when they mirrored their parent's reaction to sickness, the kids were allowed to stay home.

"When your child says, 'I have a stomach ache,' do you say, 'Oh, you poor dear, you've got to lie down and quit for the day,' or do you say, 'Let's find some healthy alternatives for dealing with this,' " Levy says. "What we're saying is the effects of modeling and social learning can have a significant impact on their children's health and illness experience."

In the second study, researchers at the University of Georgia and Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. looked at the records of hundreds of California Medicaid patients to compare the cost of health care for IBS sufferers versus those who do not have the condition. The average annual Medicaid expense per IBS case was $2,952; for patients without the condition, Medicaid spent $1,991 annually. All the patients were of the same age, race and gender, says study co-author Bradley C. Martin, associate professor in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga.

The study found that IBS patients went to the doctor almost twice as often as, and received 50 percent more prescriptions than, non-IBS sufferers. IBS patients were also three times more likely to be depressed, and suffered much more often from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and psychoses than those without IBS.

The results were virtually the same for men and women in every racial group, but when they were broken out by age group, the costs jumped dramatically for people between the ages of 41 and 65. The annual expense of caring for that age group was $3,660, versus $2,768 for those between 18 and 40, and $2,270 for those older than 65.


What To Do

For digestive health tips, visit the American College of Gastroenterology. For detailed information on IBS and treatment options, check out the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders or the University of North Carolina Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders.


Copyright © 2001 ScoutNews, LLC. All rights reserved.

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