Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common, long-term condition of the digestive system that causes episodes of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation
The main symptom of IBS is chronic abdominal pain or discomfort that is typically accompanied with a change in stool frequency or form – diarrhea and/or constipation. The pain can worsen after eating and is often relieved after a bowel movement. “These symptoms, coupled with the episodic bouts of uncertainty and fluctuation, can significantly impair the quality of life for those who are affected,” said Drew Elgin, MD.
IBS is thought to affect up to one in five people at some point in their life, and most common among persons between the ages of 20 and 30. It is estimated that twice as many women are affected as men.
“While its symptoms are uncomfortable IBS, unlike ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease (forms of inflammatory bowel disease), does not cause changes in bowel tissue or increase a person’s risk for developing colorectal cancer,” said Dr. Elgin.
The most important step in treating IBS is to obtain a confident diagnosis, made by a physician based on symptoms, health history, physical exam, and limited tests.
A healthcare provider who understands IBS, can help patients identify and address their individual needs, to not only reduce their individual symptoms, but also assist in providing education and self-management tools that can improve their daily living and, ultimately, their quality of life. “It is not uncommon for people to be tempted to self-diagnose and treat themselves, but this approach can delay the effective diagnosis and treatment process,” said Dr. Elgin.
There is no cure for IBS, but once it is diagnosed the most effective treatment choices to reduce symptoms can begin. Working closely with their physician, patients will learn about the disease, understand the triggers that cause an IBS episode and how to alleviate the symptoms.
Treatment or management choices, often used in combination, will depend on severity of the symptoms and the impact the disease has on the person’s quality of life. Examples may include lifestyle changes, relaxation techniques, gut-directed hypnosis, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medications.
If you think you may have irritable bowel syndrome, talk to your doctor to confirm your diagnosis to begin an effective treatment plan that will reduce and/or eliminate needless pain, sudden onsets and ensure a higher quality of life.