If you experience pain or discomfort in your abdomen along with changes in your bowel movement patterns—it’s possible that you have irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. Although it’s little consolation, “IBS is the most common disease diagnosed by gastroenterologists and one of the most common disorders seen by primary care physicians,” reports the American College of Gastroenterology.
Doctors refer to the group of symptoms known as IBS as a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder. This means that your GI tract behaves abnormally due to causes other than a disease process. The good news is that unlike ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease — forms of inflammatory bowel disease — IBS doesn’t cause changes in bowel tissue or increase your risk of colorectal cancer. Although IBS is thought to affect nearly 15 percent of American adults, only 5 to 7 percent of these people have received an actual diagnosis. This chronic condition with symptoms that require long-term management can take a toll on sufferers’ lives. Studies show:
• IBS is a major reason for increased absences and reduced productivity at work.
• Symptoms can disrupt patients’ daily lives, reduce social activities and impair relationships.
• People with IBS make more visits to their physicians, undergo more diagnostic tests, are prescribed more medications and are hospitalized more frequently than patients without IBS, according to the American College of Gastroenterology.
• Patients who have untreated IBS report significant reductions in their overall quality of life, and Mayo Clinic estimates that fewer than one in five people with symptoms seek medical help.
Here are three important things to know about IBS.
1) The symptoms vary widely and often mimic those of other diseases.
Each person with IBS has his or her own unique set of symptoms, and it’s common to enjoy periods in which they improve or disappear completely. Only a small number of people experience severe symptoms. The most common include:
- • Abdominal pain or cramping
- • Diarrhea or constipation, often in alternating bouts
- • A bloated feeling
- • Gas
- • Mucus in the stool
- • Aggravated hemorrhoids from diarrhea and constipation
2) Although the exact cause of IBS is unknown, a variety of factors are involved.
IBS typically occurs in people under age 45, and twice as many women as men have the condition. Research indicates that having a family member with IBS may put you at increased risk for the condition.
IBS symptoms may be due to:
• The layers of muscle that line the intestinal walls contracting too forcefully, causing gas, bloating and diarrhea
• Too-weak intestinal contractions that slow food passage and cause hard, dry stools
• Abnormalities in the gastrointestinal nervous system that lead to greater than normal discomfort when the abdomen stretches from gas or stool
• An overreaction to the digestive process that causes pain, diarrhea or constipation
• Food allergies or intolerances
• Hormonal changes
• Other illnesses such as infectious diarrhea or bacterial overgrowth
3) IBS is treatable with lifestyle changes and medications.
The symptoms of IBS can cause patients to feel discouraged or depressed, but many people successfully manage the condition with their gastroenterologist’s help and a combination of diet, medications and other supportive therapies.
Your doctor will first rule out other conditions including inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer by taking a detailed history. He or she might recommend tests such as stool specimens, colonoscopy, CT scan or lower GI series.
Your gastroenterologist will then develop a treatment plan that eases your symptoms and helps you live a full, pain-free life. Depending on the severity of your IBS, options might include:
• Dietary changes to eliminate common high-gas foods, gluten and certain types of carbohydrates known as FODMAPs
• Supplements such as fiber and probiotics as well as prescribed or over-the-counter medications including antidepressants, antidiarrheals and antispasmodics
• A regular exercise program to relieve depression, lower stress and stimulate normal contractions of your intestines
• Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage, hypnosis and meditation
If you’re struggling with painful symptoms you suspect might be IBS, you don’t have to suffer alone. Revere Health’s gastroenterologists are specialists who diagnose and treat a wide variety of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, including IBS, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative coliti, and celiac disease. We offer compassionate, patient-centered care designed to address your unique needs and goals in several Utah locations.