If you have some or all of these symptoms, you may suffer from a treatable medical condition called irritable bowel syndrome or IBS. While not life threatening, this disorder can have significant impact on your life.
If you suffer from these symptoms, see your doctor, talk about your symptoms and ask about treatment that may be right for you. For many sufferers, the abdominal discomfort, bloating and constipation of IBS can be managed effectively. For those patients who seek care, physicians have treatment options that can relieve the abdominal pain, bloating and constipation of IBS and improve your quality of life, giving you the relief you deserve.
IBS is a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder, a condition in which symptoms are due to dysfunction of the gut, not a structural problem like cancer. Nevertheless it is a real and treatable medical condition. IBS is a chronic disorder that is characterized by recurring (symptoms that come and go over time) abdominal discomfort or pain associated with an altered bowel habit, either constipation, diarrhea or both. IBS is different from routine, occasional constipation or diarrhea.
IBS is best defined by what it is NOT:
Contrary to popular belief, IBS is not a psychosomatic disorder. Stress and anxiety do not cause IBS. Instead, research suggests that IBS is dysfunction caused by changes in the nerves and muscles that control sensation and motility of the bowel. IBS is 1.5—2 times more common in women than in men and is most commonly diagnosed in people under the age of 50.
Remember, IBS is a real medical condition, but it is not life threatening, and will not lead to other serious diseases. Your GI tract may work differently, moving more slowly (or more quickly) than the average.
IBS is prevalent. In the United States, it is estimated that 10 to15 percent of the adult population suffers from IBS symptoms, yet only 5 to 7 percent of adults have been diagnosed with the disease. IBS is the most common disease diagnosed by gastroenterologists and one of the most common disorders seen by primary care physicians.
IBS can have a substantial impact on patients’ lives. IBS symptoms can disrupt patients’ daily lives causing them to miss school or work, reduce social activities and interactions, skip meals or make other changes to diet and nutrition. Consumer surveys have established that IBS is a major reason for increased absences and reduced productivity. So, there are compelling reasons for employers to be interested in improving access to treatment for patients with IBS. Overall, patients who have untreated IBS report significant reductions in their overall quality-of-life. According to studies, people with IBS make more visits to their physicians, undergo more diagnostic tests, are prescribed more medications, miss more workdays, have lower work productivity, are hospitalized more frequently, and account for greater overall direct healthcare costs than patients without IBS. Research reveals that IBS can have such a severe impact on quality of life that it has been linked to an increase in suicidal behavior.
Generally, doctors classify IBS based on the cluster of symptoms experienced by the patient including IBS with constipation (abdominal discomfort or pain, bloating and constipation), IBS with diarrhea (abdominal discomfort or pain, urgency and diarrhea) or IBS with mixed symptoms (constipation and diarrhea). There are approximately an equal number of patients in each of these classifications. By determining the type of IBS that you suffer from, doctors are able to determine the right treatment. So it’s important for you to describe all of your symptoms to your doctors including your bowel habit to your doctor.
The exact cause of IBS is not clear. However, recent medical research has shown that patients experiencing abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating and constipation or diarrhea may have a gastrointestinal (GI) tract that is more sensitive and works more slowly or quickly than it should. Infrequent, occasional constipation or diarrhea is not abnormal. Most people experience these symptoms from time to time. Diarrhea or constipation that is frequently accompanied by abdominal pain or bloating is a sign that you may have IBS and need to see the doctor.
If you experience recurring constipation or diarrhea that is associated with bothersome abdominal discomfort and/or bloating, you may have a real and treatable medical disorder called irritable bowel syndrome, and you should see your doctor or a gastrointestinal specialist to evaluate your symptoms.
A gastroenterologist is a physician who specializes in disorders and conditions of the gastrointestinal tract. Most gastroenterologists are board-certified in this subspecialty. After completing the same training as all other physicians, they first complete at least another two years of additional training in order to attain board certification in internal medicine, then study for an additional 2-3 years to train specifically in conditions of the gastrointestinal tract.
The doctor will start by asking you about your symptoms. It’s important for the doctor to understand the symptoms you are experiencing. So, describe all of your symptoms to your doctor. Tell your doctor about your abdominal discomfort, bloating and your bowel symptoms. Your doctor may ask if you strain or have difficulty having a bowel movement and ask you to describe the appearance of your bowel movement. Your doctor will rule out other disorders. You doctor will ask if you have experienced rectal bleeding, significant weight loss, recurring fever, anemia, and chronic severe diarrhea. These symptoms may need additional evaluation.
Because of the low likelihood of uncovering organic diseases in patients with typical IBS symptoms, extensive diagnostic testing with thyroid function studies, stool for ova and parasites, and abdominal imaging should not be performed routinely in patients with typical IBS symptoms and no alarm features. Routine serologic screening for celiac sprue may be useful in patients with diarrhea-predominant IBS or the mixed type of IBS. Lactose breath testing can be considered when lactose maldigestion remains a concern despite dietary modification.
Traditionally much of the effort to treat IBS symptoms focused on lifestyle, diet and reduction of stress. Although not proven scientifically, there are some dietary changes that some patients have found helpful and can be tried by individuals with little risk:
Psychological stress makes any condition harder to tolerate, and IBS and its symptoms are no exception. Some patients have attained some relief through relaxation techniques and participation in regular exercise or a hobby. IBS symptoms are not primarily manifestations of psychological disorders, but behavioral therapies have been demonstrated to have positive impact on symptoms for some IBS patients.
Since there is no cure for IBS at present, medical treatments for IBS are used to reduce the patient’s predominant symptoms. There are a wide variety of available therapies, many of which improve patient well-being and individual IBS symptoms. Only a few therapies have been shown to be of benefit for all the symptoms of IBS. None of these treatments help every patient with IBS.
In conclusion, here are some important things to remember about IBS: