Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common disorders seen by primary care doctors and gastroenterologists. It is a prevalent condition in the United States that often sees patients suffering unnecessarily for many years before seeking medical help and sometimes not at all. If you are experiencing ongoing abdominal symptoms, IBS may be the cause. Read on to learn more about IBS and how the GastroIntestinal Specialists can help.

What Is IBS?

IBS is a disorder that causes symptoms like abdominal cramping, pain, gas, bloating and altered bowel movements due to dysfunction within the gut. Although it is a chronic condition that requires ongoing management, it is not the same as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBS does not lead to other serious diseases, and it does not cause damage to the intestines. Although it can be uncomfortable, many patients are able to control symptoms through diet and lifestyle changes. Only a small percentage of patients experience severe IBS symptoms.


What Are The Symptoms Of IBS?

Symptoms of IBS can vary significantly between patients. However, the most common symptoms are persistent pain or discomfort and bowel habit changes.

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Changes in how often you have bowel movements
  • Diarrhea (loose or watery stools occurring 3 or more times in a day)
  • Constipation (fewer than 3 bowel movements a week)
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Abdominal pain or cramping relieved by a bowel movement
  • Feeling of an incomplete bowel movement
  • Mucus in the stool

Are There Different Types Of IBS?

IBS is classified into four different subtypes based on stool consistency:

  • IBS with constipation (IBS-C)
  • IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D)
  • IBS mixed type (IBS-M)
  • IBS un-subtyped (IBS-U)

Patients with mixed-type IBS experience alternating constipation and diarrhea over short periods of hours or days, while un-subtyped IBS patients experience these changes over longer periods of weeks or months.


What Causes IBS?

While the cause of IBS is unknown, studies show that there are a number of factors that contribute to IBS:

  • Speed/strength of digestive muscle contractions (Weak contractions can cause constipation, and stronger contractions can cause diarrhea and gas.)
  • Imbalances or changes in gut bacteria
  • Gut inflammation and/or sensitivity
  • Abnormalities in the nervous system
  • Sometimes IBS can develop after a serious bacterial or viral infection.

Although they do not cause IBS, food and stress are known triggers of IBS symptoms. Many patients find that certain foods (usually FODMAPs) or drinks like coffee, carbonated beverages or alcohol worsen their IBS symptoms. Likewise, periods of stress can also make symptoms of IBS worse.


How Common Is IBS?

It is estimated that IBS affects 15% of adults in the United States, despite only about 5% being diagnosed with the disorder. It is more common among people under the age of 50. Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with IBS.


What Are The Risk Factors For IBS?

Potential risk factors for developing IBS include:

  • Being female
  • Having had estrogen therapy
  • Being under the age of 50
  • A family history of IBS
  • Mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety and/or a history of trauma


How Is IBS Diagnosed?

Patients are diagnosed with IBS based on their symptoms and a physical examination. Blood tests, stool tests or a colonoscopy are sometimes needed to rule out other conditions. There is no specific test for IBS, which is why it is largely diagnosed on symptoms.


What Treatment Is Available For IBS?

Most patients find that diet and lifestyle changes are the most effective treatment for IBS. This may include:

  • Following a low-FODMAP diet
  • Identifying and avoiding trigger foods
  • Increasing dietary fiber
  • Taking probiotics
  • Being more active
  • Stress management
  • Mental health therapy

Medication (such as laxatives, antidiarrheal medication, antispasmodics, and antidepressants or antianxiety medications) may also be required for some patients to manage symptoms.


Is IBS A Lifelong Condition?

Although symptoms may come and go, IBS is usually a chronic condition requiring lifelong management. IBS does not lead to other serious diseases. However, it can cause complications in addition to day-to-day discomfort. These include poor quality of life, mood disorders and hemorrhoids.


When Should You See A Doctor?

You should see your doctor if you experience symptoms of IBS or notice an ongoing change in your bowel habits. Don’t be embarrassed to seek medical attention. These symptoms are also associated with more serious conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer, so a checkup with your general practitioner or gastroenterologist is important.

More serious symptoms that require prompt medical attention include:

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Waking with pain or diarrhea during the night
  • Unexplained vomiting
  • Abdominal mass or lump
  • Pain that isn’t relieved by passing gas or stool

IBS is not something you just have to live with. If you or a family member suffer from IBS or any gastrointestinal symptoms, contact us today.

The team at GastroIntestinal Specialists, A.M.C., treats multiple conditions and diseases of the GI tract. Our Board-Certified physicians have over 150 years of combined experience in providing quality care you can trust. To schedule an appointment, call (318) 631-9121 or click here.Top of Form