Tired of living day to day with annoying abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea? If so, you are not alone. You may be suffering from irritable bowel syndrome or as it is more commonly known – IBS. Worldwide, 10 – 18% of people suffer with irritable bowel syndrome. It has been described by The International Foundation as the most common, functional gastrointestinal disorder. It ranks as the number one GI syndrome diagnosed by gastroenterologists alone.
So, what exactly is IBS?
IBS is a disorder of the intestinal tract or “gut”. It is characterized by its symptoms of abdominal pain or discomfort and a change in bowel habits. These changes in bowel habits may consist of onset of diarrhea, constipation or a combination of both. Symptoms may also include excessive gas production, cramping, bloating, and/or nausea. Symptoms that are usually not seen with IBS include vomiting, weight loss, and progressive or nightly abdominal pain. IBS tends to occur more frequently in women than men with two-thirds of patients being female. It affects people of all ages, including children. Being described as a functional disorder basically means the intestine is not “functioning” as it should.
So, what causes IBS?
The exact cause of IBS is unknown and there is no known cure. Some data states it is an “enteric system disorder” where the nerve sensors in the intestine are more sensitive to stretch and pain than in otherwise normal people. Recent data suggests that there could be a correlation between IBS and sexual or physical abuse. It has also been linked with patients having fibromyalgia. Contrary to belief, it is not caused by stress. However, stress certainly may intensify its symptoms.
So, how is IBS diagnosed?
There are no positive chemical or structural tests available to diagnose IBS. The diagnosis then becomes one of excluding what it is not. It will be necessary for you to visit a physician, preferably a board certified gastroenterologist, who will perform several tests to rule out other causes of your symptoms. Since IBS is not classified as an identifiable disease, your physician will also use the “Rome III Criteria”, in addition to your test results, to arrive at a diagnosis. According to the American Gastroenterological Association, the Rome III Criteria is the current standard used for the definition of IBS. It is based on a patient having abdominal pain or discomfort for at least 3 days per month, for at least 3 months, over a 6-month period. You cannot diagnose IBS by yourself.
So, what tests will your doctor do to diagnose IBS?
Your doctor will perform several of the following tests to rule out other causes for your symptoms:
- A complete history and physical – a story of what has led up to your symptoms
- Blood tests including a CBC (complete blood count), sedimentation rates, CReactive protein, and chemistries
- Blood test for gluten intolerance to rule out celiac sprue
- Tests to check for microscopic (hidden) blood in your stool
- Stool culture for ova and parasites
- Rectal exam
Depending on the results of the above tests, the gastroenterologist may them perform a colonoscopy or upper endoscopy for further evaluation.
So, what do you do after being diagnosed with IBS?
Fortunately, even though there is no cure for IBS, its symptoms can be managed. Here is a list of ways to manage your IBS. Remember, some of these will work for some people, and not for others. There are ways to manage IBS separately for constipation and for diarrhea.
IBS can be managed through:
- Supplements – herbal teas, probiotics, gluten-free foods
- Medications – Rifaximin
- Stress management
The key to IBS management is to find out which of these strategies will work best for you.
- Myths and Facts about IBS
- Defining the Rome III Criteria for diagnosis of IBS
- How to manage IBS through diet
- Medications available to manage your IBS symptoms – Rifaximin
- Stress management and IBS