What is irritable bowel syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome is common, especially in women. Persistent symptoms include bloating, gas, abdominal pain, diarrhea and/or constipation.
Are there any other symptoms?
It’s often associated with depression and brought on by anxiety. While associated with diarrhea and constipation, bowel movements are not bloody or black. It’s not caused by foods containing gluten or lactose.
So how do you diagnose it?
There are no specific tests for irritable bowel syndrome – we usually run some tests to rule out infection, anemia, blood in bowel movements and maybe lactose or gluten intolerance. I like to get a sense for triggers as well.
How do you know it’s not something worse like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis?
If symptoms are worsening and include fever, blood in bowel movements or weight loss, patient’s need referral to a gastroenterologist for colonoscopy and other tests.
So, what causes it?
That’s a good question. The cause is not known. Genetics may play a role. Stress can be a factor. Studies show that adverse life experiences, especially in childhood are often present.
In fact, physical or sexually abuse is reported in 33% to 42% of cases.
How is it treated?
There are many new medicines to treat IBS depending on symptoms and whether the symptoms include mostly diarrhea or mostly constipation.
Modifying diet – avoiding gluten, caffeine, dairy, certain fruits and vegetables may relieve symptoms. Recently we’ve been promoting low FODMAP diets.
Low FODMAP diets? What are those?
That’s a complex subject. I recommend an internet search for low FODMAP diets on that one.
One more thing. Stress reduction can be important too. If a history for abuse of any kind is presence referral to a mental health professional is essential.
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References: Snyder, N. et al, 2023. Athena Health