The aging gut: Symptoms compatible with disorders of gut-brain interaction (DGBI) in older adults in the general population

Jan Busby-Whitehead, William E. Whitehead, Ami D. Sperber, Olafur S. Palsson, Magnus Simrén

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Background: Little is known about changes in gastrointestinal symptoms compatible with disorders of gut-brain interaction (DGBI) with increasing age at the population level. The objective of this study was to describe the patterns of DGBI in individuals 65 years of age and above and contrasting them with those of younger adults. Methods: A community sample of 6300 individuals ages 18 and older in the US, UK, and Canada completed an online survey. Quota-based sampling was used to ensure equal proportion of sex and age groups (40% aged 18–39, 40% aged 40–64, 20% aged 65+) across countries, and to control education distributions. The survey included the Rome IV Diagnostic Questionnaire for DGBI, demographic questions, questionnaires measuring overall somatic symptom severity and quality of life, and questions on healthcare utilization, medications, and surgical history. Results: We included 5926 individuals in our analyses; 4700 were 18–64 years of age and 1226 were ages 65+. Symptoms compatible with at least one DGBI were less prevalent in participants ages 65+ vs. ages 18–64 years (34.1% vs. 41.3%, p < 0.0001). For symptoms compatible with upper GI DGBI, lower prevalence for most disorders was noted in the 65+ group. For lower GI DGBI, a different pattern was seen. Prevalence was lower in ages 65+ for irritable bowel syndrome and anorectal pain, but no differences from younger participants for the disorders defined by abnormal bowel habits (constipation and/or diarrhea) were seen. Fecal incontinence was the only DGBI that was more common in ages 65+. Having a DGBI was associated with reduced quality of life, more severe non-GI somatic symptoms, and increased healthcare seeking, both in younger and older participants. Conclusion: Symptoms compatible with DGBI are common, but most of these decrease in older adults at the population level, with the exception of fecal incontinence which increases. This pattern needs to be taken into account when planning GI health care for the growing population of older adults.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)479-489
    Number of pages11
    JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - 1 Feb 2024


    • gastrointestinal
    • geriatric
    • gut-brain interaction
    • population survey

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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