It’s easy to ignore intermittent gastrointestinal upset. While you may think cramps, bloating, and diarrhea may be attributable to something you ate, or a passing virus, if the symptoms linger, they may be indicative of a deeper problem. If you find that you’re having regular GI symptoms that persist longer than a day or two, it may be time to talk to your physician. Read on to learn more about the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, when to see your doctor, and what potential treatments there are.

More about IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder that mainly affects the gut. Scientists believe it is due to a lack of communication between the gut and the brain. It is estimated that around 12 percent of adults suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. IBS is more common in women, and also in patients overall over the age of 50. Unfortunately, many of the symptoms associated with IBS can be intermittent and mild and may be mistaken for other conditions or problems. However, there are roughly 10 symptoms associated with IBS that patients should know about.

General Symptoms of IBS

Gas, bloating, and cramping are all hallmarks of irritable bowel syndrome. Pain and gas will be more noticeable in the lower abdomen, and the gas associated with IBS is typically excessive. You would notice that you were experiencing more gas than usual. Cramps are thought to be due to the gut muscles contracting more than they should (this supports the theory of lack of communication between the gut and brain). Bacteria are thought to contribute to gas. Bloating is a side effect of excessive gas and is also due to bacteria.

While it’s unlikely that diarrhea and constipation would occur on the same day, both are definitive symptoms of IBS. Constipation can also be due to lack of fiber or lack of water in the diet. Diarrhea is frequent, often watery, loose bowel movements. IBS has several types of diarrhea/constipation combinations. Some patients experience frequent diarrhea and occasional constipation, while others experience frequent constipation and occasional diarrhea. Other patients have an equal mix of symptoms.

Fatigue, brain fog, and stress are all considered symptoms of IBS as well. Fatigue as it relates to IBS often occurs with bowel-related symptoms, or potential depression, as IBS can definitely chip away at quality of life.

Brain fog is a state of mental confusion characterized by trouble concentrating, feeling foggy, and impaired judgment. It can co-occur with stress and fatigue, and all have been noted to be part of the overall diagnosis of IBS. Scientists and researchers are still unsure why these seemingly non-gastrointestinal symptoms occur. Joint pain is also often associated with IBS.

Patients may also experience sensitivity to certain foods, namely fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides, and polyols. In layman’s terms, this is a list of carbohydrates that includes food such as onions, lentils, avocados, beans, cashews, and almonds. These foods are also abbreviated as FODMAPs. Many patients who eat these foods find that the consumption triggers IBS symptoms.

When to See a Doctor

If you find that you are experiencing a handful of the above symptoms, and they are present for more than just a few days, it’s best to call the doctor. Irritable bowel syndrome is not as serious as other gastrointestinal problems, but it can pose a quality of life issue. Also, other conditions may cause the symptoms of IBS, such as celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is a more serious condition. When it comes to treatment, physicians usually recommend lifestyle changes (such as avoiding stress and FODMAPs), but there are also medicines that can help, including antibiotics, anti-diarrheal medications, and antispasmodics. Anti-anxiety medications may also be used for those who are experiencing stress or anxiety. 

To learn more about the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, or to consult with a doctor who can provide more help or a diagnosis, book an appointment today at GI Associates and Endoscopy Center. We offer three separate locations for convenience, as well as pediatric services.

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