Background and Aims: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is associated with a high prevalence of psychiatric comorbidities. While psychosocial determinants were intently studied, coping strategies with stress used by IBS patients were never comprehensively reviewed. Therefore, this systematic review aimed to summarize the coping strategies used by IBS patients and to identify which tools are frequently used to measure coping strategies.

Methods: According to PRISMA guidelines, we searched for articles indexed in PubMed, EBSCOhost, EMBASE and Cochrane Library. The search terms included: (coping OR coping strategies OR coping mechanism) AND (irritable bowel syndrome OR IBS). The initial search identified 756 articles. After applying all filters (human filters, excluding conference abstracts and conference papers), 96 studies remained. Finally, a total of 21 articles were included in this systematic review.

Results: Twenty-one articles using fifteen coping instruments and six measures of quality of life were found. One was interventional, one longitudinal, and the rest were cross-sectional studies. One study was qualitative, while the rest used quantitative measures. Emotion-focused coping was associated with worse psychological outcomes, while the effect of problem-focused coping was not regularly associated with better psychological outcomes. Catastrophizing was negatively associated with health-related quality of life. Psychological distress (anxiety, depression) was significantly related to the impairment of health-related quality of life.

Conclusion: Patients with IBS cope in different ways when confronted with health and daily-life stressors. The maladaptive strategy of coping is associated with poor health-related quality of life and psychiatric comorbidities but methodological problems limit conclusions regarding the strength and nature of this association. Future research needs to focus on which strategies are most effective at reducing psychological distress in IBS patients.


Irritable bowel syndrome, IBS, coping strategies, coping mechanisms, systematic review