Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder often confused with Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is a very different condition. IBS is a functional disorder of the bowel, which results from abnormal communication between the nervous system and muscles of the bowel. This may cause the bowel to be “irritated” or more sensitive, resulting in contractions that are too forceful and rapid or too weak and slow at different times.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
Symptoms may include chronic abdominal pain, cramping, or bloating accompanied by diarrhea, constipation, or both at different times. Pain and cramping may be relieved after having a bowel movement. Stress may contribute to the symptoms of IBS.
Fever, anemia, rectal bleeding, and unexplained weight loss are NOT symptoms of IBS and may indicate a more serious condition. Early detection is key. Do not wait to make an appointment to be evaluated by your physician.
How is IBS diagnosed?
A thorough history and physical exam by a physician is necessary to exclude more serious conditions. Testing may include blood tests, stool tests, digital rectal exam, colonoscopy or x-ray studies. A hydrogen breath test may be ordered to exclude small bowel bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), a condition that is often confused with IBS.
How is IBS treated?
Diet and lifestyle modification are key to the management of IBS. Stress may play a significant role in the symptoms of IBS. Stress reduction is therefore key in the management of IBS. Treatments such as behavioral therapy, biofeedback, or relaxation may help relieve the symptoms of IBS in some individuals.
Diet modification may help with mild to moderate symptoms. Keep a food diary to help identify certain trigger foods that exacerbate your symptoms. You may try avoiding foods that are fried or too fatty. Gas producing foods such as beans, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and onions may cause bloating and discomfort. Caffeine or alcohol may make symptoms worse. Certain sugars such as sorbitol (in low calorie products or chewing gum) and sugars found in honey may be poorly absorbed by the gut and cause cramping and diarrhea.
Increasing dietary fiber may improve symptoms of IBS by bulking stool to promote motility through your colon (if you are constipated) or absorb water to alleviate diarrhea. In general 25-30 grams of fiber per day and 8 – 10 glasses of fluids is recommended to maintain colon health. In some people, too much fiber can also cause discomfort. Add fiber gradually and supplement with adequate amount of liquids to avoid exacerbating your symptoms.
Individuals with moderate to severe IBS may benefit from prescribed medication. Medications can help to control the symptoms of IBS but they do not cure the condition.