Do you experience gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, and general abdominal pain on a frequent basis? Do you worry about eating at restaurants or going out in public because you often need to find a restroom urgently? If these symptoms sound familiar, you may be one of the 10%-15% of Americans estimated to be suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS is called a “functional” disorder because, unlike those with Crohn’s Disease or Celiac Disease, the bowels of people with IBS appear to be physically normal. However, the often-debilitating symptoms associated with this disorder can make having a “normal” life seem almost impossible, especially considering that no one-size-fits-all cure exists for the condition. The good news is, several innovative and effective treatments have been developed recently to address the causes and effects of this common disorder.
How is IBS Diagnosed?
Unfortunately, IBS is a complex disorder to both diagnose and treat. Since IBS patients do not have structural abnormalities in their stomachs and colons, many providers reach an IBS diagnosis by eliminating other potential ailments. Diagnostic techniques generally include a comprehensive physical exam and routine lab work, testing of stool samples, and potentially even a gastroscopy or colonoscopy to view different sections of the digestive tract. The tests recommended by your provider will likely depend upon the nature and severity of your symptoms. Typical signs that you may have IBS include:
- Abdominal pain, cramping or discomfort that may be severe
- Frequent diarrhea, constipation, or alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation
- A change in the frequency of bowel movements
- Gas, bloating and nausea
- Experiencing abdominal and digestive symptoms at least three times a month for a period of six months
Of course, many of these symptoms are characteristic of a number of illnesses, including some that can be life-threatening if not diagnosed early. Consequently, making an appointment with your Crittenton healthcare provider is the best way to obtain an accurate diagnosis and get on the path to better health.
What Causes IBS?
Doctors and scientists have identified several potential causes for IBS, and have also found that patients tend to have diverse triggers for IBS episodes. Some factors linked to IBS development include having contracted food poisoning or a gastrointestinal infection in the past, a genetic predisposition to digestive problems or intestinal sensitivity, an imbalance in the number or type of “good” bacteria in the gut, chronic stress, anxiety, or depression, and hormonal fluctuations that impact the process of digestion. Once someone has developed a pattern of symptoms consistent with IBS, he or she may notice that certain scenarios trigger symptoms more than others. For example, some female IBS sufferers notice changes in symptom severity as their menstrual cycle progresses. Other IBS patients find that specific foods lead to a reaction, or that their pain or digestive issues increase during times of stress. Despite the fact that much uncertainty remains about the specific causes of IBS, medical professionals have found that being diagnosed with IBS generally does not lead to digestive tract damage, nor does it increase an individual’s risk of developing bowel cancer or other serious gastrointestinal disorders.
What Treatments Exist for IBS?
Treatment options for IBS can range from elimination diets to prescription medications, and are based upon your provider’s observations of the symptoms and likely cause of your IBS. For example, patients with unusual bacterial growth in the digestive tract may be prescribed a course of antibiotics, or specific probiotic supplements to rebalance the gut. Individuals who experience worsening symptoms during times of stress may have increased sensitivity to serotonin fluctuations in the stomach and intestines, and could therefore benefit from antidepressant therapy to regulate the levels of these hormones. Other sufferers may find that avoiding certain foods or taking over-the-counter antidiarrheal medications is sufficient to reduce symptoms. Your healthcare provider is your best resource for developing a treatment plan that addresses the specific triggers and symptoms you experience with this condition.
IBS can be an unpredictable and unpleasant illness, but with appropriate medical care, most individuals are able to successfully manage their symptoms. You can learn more about IBS by visiting www.aboutibs.org or contacting your Crittenton healthcare provider today.