[This piece was written by Joseph Choma, MD, Gastroenterologist/Advanced Endoscopist, with Albany Gastroenterology Consultants.]
It seems we hear a lot about irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in the news these days. As many as 1 in 5 American adults experience signs and symptoms of IBS. You may know someone with the diagnosis, or may even be curious if symptoms you are experiencing could be IBS. You may have already been diagnosed with IBS.
IBS is a common condition that is part of a larger set of diagnoses known as functional gastrointestinal disorders. While the exact cause of IBS is unknown, there are a number of theories based on scientific research. It is a chronic condition that requires long-term management of problematic symptoms, the most common of which are:
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Mucus in the stool
Risk factors for IBS include:
- Age of 45 or less
- Family history of IBS
- Mood disorders such as anxiety or depression
The characteristic signs and symptoms of IBS vary widely from person to person, and IBS can sometimes resemble other diseases. Getting an IBS diagnosis can include a process of ruling out other conditions. Fortunately, in most instances, minimal testing is needed to reach the diagnosis.
When to See a Doctor
IBS symptoms can overlap with a variety of other common gastrointestinal conditions such as celiac disease, food allergy or intolerance, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease) differs from IBS in several important ways. Most importantly, IBS does not damage the bowel or increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
There is no one test to diagnose IBS. If you experience any of these symptoms on a routine or even intermittent basis, it’s important you openly discuss these issues with your health care provider.
Your primary care provider may first conduct preliminary testing prior to referring you to a specialist in digestive disorders (gastroenterologist) to rule out a more serious condition.
Managing IBS to Improve Quality of Life
One piece of good news for IBS sufferers is there are many treatment options available which can help manage symptoms and improve your quality of life. Based on your family history and your unique combination of symptoms, your health care provider can help tailor a treatment plan specifically for you. They may suggest:
- Dietary manipulation including eliminating high-gas foods, gluten or FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols)
- Eating smaller, more frequent and balanced meals
- Drinking more water, eliminating caffeine and carbonated beverages
- Fiber supplements
- Prescription and over-the-counter medications
- Counseling and biofeedback
- Physical therapy
While some patients will require medication and counseling to manage their symptoms, many can learn to control their IBS by managing diet, lifestyle and stress.
For more information on IBS, and the treatment options available, visit www.sphp.com or contact St. Peter’s Health Partners at (877) 525-2227.