Each year in April, International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) promotes IBS Awareness Month. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders, affecting up to ten percent of people worldwide.
IBS is a functional disorder, which means that unlike inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, it doesn’t involve inflammation or ulcers in the digestive tract. That means that it doesn’t cause physical damage to the intestines. However, it can significantly impair a person’s quality of life, causing pain, bloating, and other symptoms.
Although there is not yet a complete understanding of the causes, IBS is believed to result from a complex interplay of factors, such as changes in the gut microbiome, altered gut motility, and increased sensitivity to visceral pain.
What are the main symptoms of Irritable Bowel syndrome?
IBS can present with different symptoms, varying in severity from person to person and from time to time. Common symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating, and alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea. Other symptoms may include a feeling of incomplete evacuation, excessive gas, and nausea.
IBS can severely impact their quality of life. Too often, people are reluctant or embarrassed to talk about their symptoms with family or friends, so they don’t get any social support or feedback from family, friends, employers, or even their healthcare providers.
This April, for IBS Awareness Month, IFFGD will address the symptoms, causes of symptom flares, and management strategies to increase public awareness and shed light on the lived experience of those impacted by IBS. In announcing this year’s program, IFFGD President Ceciel T. Rooker commented, “Symptoms of IBS can be uncertain and can make participating in activities most people take for granted, such as eating out or traveling long distances, almost impossible. But few recognize the true extent of this burden. This is why it is so important to raise awareness.” He also invites everyone to join their social campaign using #IBSAwarenessMonth.
How do doctors diagnose IBS?
There is no single diagnostic test for IBS, but doctors may use a combination of physical and laboratory tests to help rule out any other abnormalities that could indicate a different gastrointestinal disorder. Blood tests can help rule out other conditions that may have similar symptoms to IBS, such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or thyroid disorders. Stool tests can help rule out infections or other conditions.
What causes IBS?
IBS’s exact cause is unknown, but several factors that may contribute to its development have been identified. One possible cause is an imbalance in the gut microbiome, which refers to the trillions of bacteria that live in the human gut. Research has shown that people with IBS often have an altered microbiome compared to healthy individuals, which may contribute to the development of symptoms.
Another possible cause of IBS is altered gut motility, which refers to how food moves through the digestive tract. People with IBS may experience abnormal contractions of the intestines, which can lead to symptoms such as constipation or diarrhea.
In addition, people with IBS may have an increased sensitivity to visceral pain, which is the pain that arises from the organs in the belly area. This increased sensitivity may be due to changes in the nervous system or to alterations in how the brain processes pain signals.
While IBS does not cause physical damage to the intestines, it can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. People with IBS may experience various emotional and psychological symptoms, including anxiety, depression, and social isolation.
To learn more about IBS, visit www.aboutIBS.org.
Can Irritable Bowel Syndrome be cured?
IBS is a chronic condition, and although there are no complete cures, several treatment options can lower the level of symptoms and frequency of attacks.
- Dietary modifications may include eliminating certain foods that are known to trigger symptoms, such as high-fat or spicy foods, and increasing the intake of fiber-rich foods.
- Stress management techniques, such as relaxation exercises and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can help manage the emotional and psychological symptoms associated with the disorder.
- Medications may also be prescribed to help alleviate specific symptoms, such as antispasmodics for abdominal pain or laxatives for constipation.
With proper treatment and management, many people with IBS can more effectively manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
Is IBS the same as Inflammatory Bowel disease (IBD)?
Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, are more severe and potentially life-threatening conditions. IBD is characterized by inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract, which can lead to complications such as bowel obstruction, abscesses, and perforation.
IBD is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the digestive tract. Treatment for IBD typically involves medications that suppress the immune system, such as corticosteroids or immunomodulators, and may sometimes require surgery.
What are the best medications for IBS?
Several prescription and off-label treatments can help ease the symptoms of IBS. Here are a few examples:
- Antispasmodics can help relieve abdominal cramping and spasms. Some of the over-the-counter travel sickness medications can help here.
- Antidiarrheals can help slow down bowel movements and reduce diarrhea. Examples include Imodium and Lomotil.
- Laxatives can help relieve constipation by softening the stool and making it easier to pass. Most over-the-counter stool softeners are recommended.
- Probiotics are live bacteria that can help restore a healthy balance of gut bacteria. Some studies have suggested that certain strains of probiotics can help alleviate symptoms of IBS. We have written more here about the beneficial effects of Flora Q2 and probiotics generally for people suffering from IBS.
Not all treatments work for everyone, and some may have side effects. Working with your healthcare provider to determine the best treatment approach for your needs is essential.
Some medications used to treat IBS may be prescribed off-label. This means that the FDA does not specifically approve them for treating IBS. However, off-label prescription is widespread and your doctors will use it when they feel that a specific drug will benefit your special needs. Ultimately, your doctor is the ultimate selector of appropriate medication based on clinical evidence and professional experience.