Over 35 million people in the United States and as many as 15% of the population worldwide are affected by Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS is a very common condition that affects the large intestine. It can cause unpleasant symptoms such as abdominal pain and diarrhea or constipation. It is a chronic condition, and although its exact cause is still not fully understood, it has been linked to a number of different factors that increase the chances of getting IBS or trigger IBS symptoms.
IBS is a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder, meaning that the GI tract appears normal but doesn’t function normally. The condition is much more common in women and usually occurs in people under age 45. IBS is also sometimes referred to as nervous indigestion or spastic colon.
What Are the Symptoms?
IBS is classified according to the person’s typical stool consistency – IBS with diarrhea, IBS with constipation, and IBS mixed if there are symptoms of both. Signs and symptoms of IBS can vary from person to person and there may be days when symptoms are dramatically better or when they are worse, causing painful attacks or flare-ups which usually last between two and four days. The main symptoms of IBS include:
- Abdominal pain/cramping – usually worse after eating and improves after a bowel movement.
- Bloating/Excess gas
- Diarrhea or Constipation – sometimes alternating bouts of the two
- Watery stool/mucus in the stool
- Tiredness/lack of energy
Some individuals who suffer IBS also report other symptoms such as back pain, sleep problems, and urinary problems, and those with IBS also tend to be more prone to experience other GI conditions such as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and indigestion as well as non-GI disorders such as chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pelvic pain, depression, and anxiety.
What Causes IBS?
The exact cause of IBS is unknown and sometimes symptoms of IBS can appear to occur for no obvious reason, but there is research to suggest that certain factors such as genetics or prior infection or trauma can trigger someone to have IBS. The colon plays a vital role in regulating the frequency of a bowel movement and the consistency of stools (colonic motility).If there are disturbances like abnormal muscle contractions (either too strong or too weak) in the stomach and intestines, it can mean that the food passes through the gut to quickly or too slowly, leading to diarrhea or constipation, abdominal cramps, and gas. Poorly coordinated or oversensitive nerve signals between the brain and the gut can also alter the patterns of colonic motility and sensation within the bowel and can lead to IBS symptoms.
Other factors that may play a role in triggering IBS include:
- Dietary – food sensitivities or intolerances, a low-fiber diet, high-carb foods, spicy or high-fat foods, carbonated drinks, caffeine, alcohol, fructose, sorbitol, and dairy products.
- Emotional stress
- Hormonal changes in women, particularly at the time of menstruation
- Certain medications
- Other medical conditions such as gastroenteritis or bacterial overgrowth
- Depression, anxiety, or trauma from physical or sexual abuse
Diagnosis and Treatment
An IBS diagnosis usually relies on a symptom duration of 12 weeks or more. There is no single test to definitively identify IBS, but a doctor can often diagnose IBS by reviewing symptoms and possible contributing factors, medical history and conducting a physical examination, and by ruling out other diseases or conditions with similar symptoms. Tests may also be ordered to help determine the diagnosis, such as blood tests, stool tests, and imaging studies.
For some individuals, IBS is a chronic, lifelong condition. Treatment will depend on the type of IBS. There is no cure for the condition, but symptoms can be managed with lifestyle and diet changes, counseling, and in some cases with medications that are aimed at relieving symptoms and minimizing flare-ups.
Treatment for GI Disorders in Central Texas
If you are experiencing symptoms of IBS, call the experts at Austin Gastroenterology today. Our gastroenterologists and GI providers see patients from 18 offices throughout the greater Austin area. For more information about the services we provide or to schedule an appointment, call the number associated with the office you’d like to visit or use our online appointment request form.