IBS, otherwise known as irritable bowel syndrome, isn’t as medically serious as some other gastrointestinal problems, but to the patient experiencing it, it can be painful and irritating and can have a significant impact on one’s daily life. Worldwide, IBS affects between 6 to 18 percent of people, affecting women more than men. Symptoms can vary from person to person, but one of the most common symptoms is abdominal pain, which often leads patients to see a gastroenterologist. Read on to learn about the common symptoms of IBS, how it is diagnosed, and what treatments are available.
The exact cause of IBS is not known, but patients who have IBS suffer from a spastic colon or overly sensitive colon. Many things can trigger an episode, such as certain foods, anxiety, and stress, however, triggers manifest differently in patients. For example, one patient may be extremely sensitive to one food, while another may tolerate that food. Patients usually visit a GI doctor after experiencing several of the following symptoms:
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.
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 look 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.
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:
Physicians also recommend a low-FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols, which is likely hard to discern for most, but what it breaks down to is you should avoid certain foods. Some foods to limit include lactose, some fruits and vegetables, legumes and beans, and sugar substitutes like sorbitol. Fruits to avoid are those high in fructose, such as apples and pears. Grapes, berries, and bananas are much lower in fructose. Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli can also trigger an IBS flare-up. Safer veggies include eggplant, green beans, celery, carrots, and squash.
When it comes to lifestyle changes, your GI doctor will tell you not to smoke, exercise regularly, limit stress, and 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 in the Charlotte, NC area and need more information about irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or would like to be seen by a doctor for an evaluation, schedule an appointment with us today. Our doctors at Carolina Digestive Health are caring professionals committed to providing the best in comprehensive healthcare.