Irritable Bowel Syndrome

By Anamika Reed, MD

What is Irritable bowel syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition of the digestive system that causes abdominal pain and altered bowel habits, with constipation and/or diarrhea. IBS is very common condition and is present in as many as 10-20% of the US population. In fact, IBS is the second most common reason for medical work absence. Symptoms often begin in young adulthood, and women are twice as likely as men to get IBS.

We do not fully understand the cause of IBS, but there a number of working theories:

  • Abnormal contractions of the colon or disturbed motility
  • Heightened sensitivity of the GI tract pain receptors
  • Food intolerances
  • Activation of the intestinal immune system
  • Changes to the GI tract after infection
  • Genetic susceptibility
  • Psychosocial stressors leading to the release of hormones that affect the GI trac

What are some of the symptoms?

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Altered bowel habits: diarrhea or constipation

How is it diagnosed?

  • A detailed health history is obtained to help identify if you are at risk for other gastrointestinal conditions, such celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease
  • Your health care provider may order lab tests including blood work and/or stool studies to look for other factors contributing to your symptoms
  • A colonoscopy and/or upper endoscopy may be recommended based on ‘alarm symptoms,’ such as weight loss, rectal bleeding/blood in your stool, or anemia

How will this diagnosis impact me?

Most individuals diagnosed with IBS lead very productive and healthy lives. When left undiagnosed or untreated, IBS can negatively impact your quality of life by causing chronic symptoms (pain, diarrhea, constipation) you experience everyday. IBS does not lead to serious or permanent damage to the gastrointestinal system or shorten lifespan.

How is IBS treated?

There is no cure for IBS. Instead, therapies are focused on managing symptoms. Treatment options for IBS include dietary and lifestyle modifications, as well as pharmacologic interventions. Since IBS may present differently in each individual, your treatment recommendations will be tailored to suit your needs and symptoms. Options includes:

  • Dietary modification
  • Exercise regimen
  • Fiber supplementation
  • Probiotics
  • Antidiarrheal agents
  • Anti-constipation medications
  • Antispasmodics—a class of medications that help with abdominal pain
  • Antidepressants, which are used in low doses to manage pain
  • Short course of antibiotics
  • Behavior modification
  • Complementary therapy including, hypnotherapy

Please contact us if you are experiencing any symptoms of IBS to arrange for a thorough evaluation and individualized treatment plan. Many individuals suffer needlessly from this chronic, but treatable condition. We can help clarify what factors may be contributing to your symptoms and improve your quality of life significantly.