Do you struggle with chronic abdominal pain, urgency, and bowel problems? You may have IBS. Unfortunately, irritable bowel syndrome commonly goes undiagnosed. After a lifetime of fluctuation between bloat, gas, diarrhea, and constipation, sufferers sadly acclimate to their motility issues. Believing they just have a sensitive stomach, these people don’t know to seek medical attention. That’s why April was designated as IBS Awareness Month, to increase education, diagnosis, and treatment.
If you’re living with these symptoms, you may experience a diminished quality of life. 1 in 7 Americans has IBS. That’s nearly 15% of the U.S. population or more than 30 million people. IBS symptoms can flare up unexpectedly and change over time, which significantly interferes with day-to-day functioning.
There is no cure for IBS, so it’s essential to increase federal funding for research and accessible care. Consider becoming a digestive health patient community advocate by reaching out to your Members of Congress this April.
What Are the Most Common Symptoms of IBS?
While the cause of IBS isn’t known, we do know that many people with IBS also suffer from an overly sensitive or spastic colon. There are many triggers, such as certain foods, anxiety, and stress, however, triggers manifest differently in patients. You may consider a visit with a gastroenterologist after experiencing several of the following symptoms:
- Gas and bloating. Those with IBS produce more gas than others because of altered digestion in the gut. This can lead to bloating, which is another highly reported symptom of the disorder.
- Diarrhea or Constipation. There are typically two IBS types: IBS with diarrhea and IBS with constipation, although a small number of cases experience alternating diarrhea and constipation.
- Changes in bowel movements. Patients may notice differences in shape, size, and smell of the stool. Blood in the stool may also be a possibility. If patients experience this, they should inform their gastroenterologist immediately.
- Stomach pain. Patients experience stomach pain and cramping that subsides slightly after a bowel movement.
- Food intolerance. Patients may experience intolerance and sensitivities to foods, such as those that contain lactose and gluten. This is different from an allergy, where a patient cannot eat those foods safely at all.
- Fatigue. Patients with IBS experience fatigue or difficulty sleeping more often than those without GI disturbances.
Those with IBS may also experience increased anxiety and depression, perhaps due to the increased amount of the hormone cortisol in patients who experience IBS symptoms.
How Is IBS Diagnosed?
The first step in getting a diagnosis is to visit your healthcare provider after you experience symptoms. However, your physician is likely to provide you with diagnostic procedures and tests to rule out more serious conditions and concerns first—not looking for a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome. This is to ensure that there is not an underlying cause for your symptoms, such as celiac disease or colon cancer, both of which have symptoms that are similar to those of IBS. Your doctor would likely first order X-rays, blood tests, and stool samples.
Celiac disease is a disease where a person is extremely sensitive to gluten, and the symptoms can mimic those of IBS. However, celiac disease can be more severe if it goes undiagnosed. If the blood test comes back positive for celiac disease, your doctor will perform an endoscopy and biopsy to confirm the celiac disease diagnosis.
Alternatively, if you are above the age of 45 and have not had your first colonoscopy, your physician may order one to examine your colon. This helps to rule out polyps, which are the precursors to colon cancer, as well as other problems like colitis, which can mimic the symptoms of IBS.
Your doctor may also order a lactose breath test to ensure that your symptoms are not the cause of lactose intolerance.
If your doctor can rule out other conditions such as celiac disease, colitis, and lactose intolerance, a diagnosis of IBS may be likely. The main course of IBS treatment in most cases, however, is dietary and lifestyle changes.
How Is IBS Treated?
The primary way that IBS is treated is to avoid the triggers that cause a flare-up. For instance, if you notice that you are sensitive to gluten, even though you don’t have celiac disease, it’s wise to avoid gluten or to only ingest it in very small doses so you don’t experience IBS symptoms. However, GI doctors often suggest general lifestyle changes, although everyone’s IBS diagnosis is unique. Some of the recommendations for IBS treatment include:
- Increase the fiber in your diet. The best way is to do this naturally with the foods you eat. Increasing your fruit, vegetable, nut, and grain intake naturally increases your fiber level. However, it’s also a good idea to take an over-the-counter fiber supplement as well.
- Limit dairy intake. Lactose can irritate and cause flare-ups for those who have IBS.
- Avoid heavy use of caffeine and alcohol. Both of these can irritate the gastrointestinal tract.
- Take probiotics and peppermint oil capsules. These could decrease GI muscle spasms
- Practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation. Movement practices like yoga or tai chi can be instrumental to pain relief.
- Eat a low-FODMAP diet. Physicians also recommend a low-FODMAP diet.
When it comes to lifestyle changes, your GI doctor will tell you not to smoke, exercise regularly, limit stress, and to eat smaller meals more times a day. They may also recommend a food diary so you can determine which foods cause flare-ups.
Occasionally, diet and lifestyle changes alone don’t curb IBS symptoms, and doctors will look toward anti-diarrheal medications and medications to help with stomach pain to help manage symptoms. Antidepressants may also be an option. Your doctor may also suggest taking probiotics for gut health. If your symptoms still don’t improve, you may require more testing to rule out an underlying condition.
If you are looking for IBS relief in the Jackson, MS area, take the first step and schedule an appointment with the IBS specialists at GI Associates. Don’t suffer in silence! We want you to live your most healthy life.