Rome? Manning? Who cares?

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    Correspondence: Assoc. Prof. Richard H. Holloway, Departmentof Gastroenterology, Hepatology and General Medicine, RoyalAdelaide Hospital, North Terrace, Adelaide, SA, 5000.

    Received July 11, 2000; accepted July 13, 2000.

    Rome? Manning? Who Cares?In this issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterology,Saito et al. (1) present an important report concerning thetwo most often used definitions of the irritable bowel syn-drome (IBS): the older but still widely used Manning criteria(2), and the Rome I criteria from 1989 (3). The latterdefinition has recently been revised, called Rome II (4).Saito et al.s publication is of crucial importance: IBS isvery common (see Table 6 in Saito et al.s article), and it isexpensive to society (5); and, as researchers present data

    with either definition, it is important to be able to comparethe results of different authors.

    The confusion with two definitions in the arena is madeeven worse by the fact that different cut-off levels can beused for both definitions, as discussed by Saito et al., with,of course, lower prevalence with higher cut-offs. Nobodyknows which cut-off is clinically applicable in either defi-nition. However, the prevalence of IBS with the Manningcriteria is consistently higher than with the Rome criteria.Despite this, Saito et al. show an acceptable agreement inidentifying subjects with IBS using either definition, withboth k statistics and overall agreement. The same findingsconcerning both prevalence rates and diagnostic agreementhave been reported from population-based surveys before(68). It can be argued that the Manning criteria are moresensitive in finding cases than the Rome I criteria. The lowersensitivity of the Rome I criteria has recently been focusedon in an abstract at the Digestive Diseases Week 2000 (9),where Saito et al. also showed that the new Rome II criteriagive even lower prevalence rates than Rome I in commu-nity-based samples (10). Also, Hahn et al. (6) postulatedthat both the Manning criteria and the Rome I definition ofIBS underestimate the true number of sufferers.

    So, what is the truth? The Manning criteria (2) wereoriginally created and validated in a secondary care patientpopulation, and the results from Manning et al. have beenconfirmed (11), showing that the sensitivity is acceptablebut the sensitivity is poor: this is the reason why cliniciansmust exclude organic disorders by including alarm symp-toms and investigations based on their intuition. TheRome criteria are based on factor analysis of population-based data (12) and have been shown to have reasonableaccuracy when combined with alarm symptoms and signs insecondary care patients (13), except for lactose intolerance(14), in secondary care. To my knowledge, no investigatorhas tried to validate the accuracy of the two definitions,including intestinal investigations, in a primary care settingor in a population sample. This is necessary as secondarycare IBS patients represent only a subset of all sufferers (15)and most probably are heavily biased by health care-seekingbehavior (16). It is also a huge task!

    Who uses the current definitions? It is the researcher, inboth epidemiological studies, trying to approach the un-selected population by mailed questionnaires, and in face-to-face consultations with either patients or subjects in astudy. In these situations, there is time to use extensivequestionnaires with several pages of questions.

    What other sources of information concerning diseasesare available? One increasingly used source is computerizedmedical records, which also can force the doctor to setdiagnoses at each consultation or telephone contact. A vastmajority of those people with IBS symptoms consult ingeneral practice (15). In Sweden today, as in many othercountries, most primary health care centers are computer-ized (17), and in hospitals this process is accelerating. Thisgives us access to very important information about the IBS

    2679AJG October, 2000 Editorials

  • patients, as clinical information can now easily be extractedfrom the medical records.

    However, how is the IBS diagnosis made in clinicalpractice? If data from research and everyday clinical workare to be compared, diagnoses in research and reality mustbe comparable or, ideally, identical. Thompson et al. (18)showed that only nine of 55 general practitioners undersurvey have heard of the Manning criteria, and just one ofthem had heard of the Rome definition. None of them usedthese criteria in their practice. Despite this they referred only14% of the IBS patients for a second opinion. In anotherstudy from the same group (15), 48% of the patients thatfulfilled the Rome I and/or Manning criteria were not clas-sified as such by the general practitioners, although half ofthese received a related functional gastrointestinal diagno-sis. When I was invited to write this editorial, I asked the136 general practitioners in the County of Uppsala, Sweden,whether they had ever heard of the Rome definition or theManning criteria, and whether they used them. The doctorsare specialized in family medicine and most of them expe-rienced. Thirty-six answered promptly; of those, two hadheard of Mannings criteria but never used it, and one hadheard of the Rome definition, and thought he used it! Theywere also asked how they diagnosed IBS. The overwhelm-ing majority mentioned abdominal pain and concomitantunspecified bowel problems, taking alarm symptoms intoconsideration, and ordered investigations when needed. Theresponse rate is low, but most probably the nonrespondersare not more familiar with the terminology!

    So how come this lack of definition works in practice?Well, one reason is that the Rome definition and the Man-ning criteria are too complicated to use in the busy clinicalworkday. Most patients with functional abdominal disordersare treated in primary health care (15), where an individualdoctor sees up to 150 patients per week (19), and gastroin-testinal complaints constitute only about 5% of all cases inprimary health care (20). Not only gastroenterologists butmany other specialists have presented complicated and,thereby, unusable algorithms. Many of the conditions en-countered are polysymptomatic, and thus diagnosis is oftenbased on clinical impression rather than applying definitionsdeveloped for the purposes of research (18). The situation inmost gastroenterologists practices not engaged in research,where up to half of the patients present with functionaldisorders (21), is probably similar. Another reason might bethat the definitions per se are not applicable in a generalpractice setting, as they are not validated in that setting, andthat therefore the general practitioner has to treat the patientsaccording to his or her enormous experience combined withunstructured knowledge.

    Attempts have been made to simplify the IBS definition.Kruis et al. (22) designed a scoring system with only pain,flatulence, bowel irregularity, and alternating constipationand diarrhea as mandatory symptoms, combined with symp-tom duration and negative laboratory tests. The Kruis scor-ing system has been found to be equivalent to the Manning

    criteria in identifying IBS and excluding organic gastroin-testinal disease (23). Also, our group has shown that asimple definition with only abdominal pain or discomfortcombined with constipation or diarrhea, or alternating con-stipation or diarrhea, gives the same prevalence rates as theRome I definition, and slightly lower than the Manningcriteria. The general agreement between this simple defini-tion and the Rome criteria was very good (k 0.85, generalagreement 96%), and somewhat lower t