Fitness Facts: Irritable bowel syndrome
By Connie Colbert
Director, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
You may have heard the term IBS (which is short for irritable bowel syndrome), however, many may not know the symptoms or its prevalence.
According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), “Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects up to 10-15% of adults. It has a significant worldwide prevalence. Although IBS is not associated with an increased risk for life-threatening illness, it is associated with a significant health care and economic burden. Studies have shown that IBS patients have an increased number of outpatient health care visits, diagnostic tests and surgeries. IBS also can severely compromise a person’s quality of life. IBS is second only to the common cold as a cause of absenteeism from work.”
IBS is described as a long-term and often intermittent disorder that involves a disturbance in the motility or sensation in the small and/or large intestines. The function of the intestine is regulated by the brain, thus this disorder is often called a brain-gut disorder. To learn more about this fascinating connection, see this article by Harvard Health.
The symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating and change in bowel habits. For some, it can be constipation and, for others, it is diarrhea and for still others, it alternates between both. It is often unpredictable and can cause stress and anxiety, which creates a never-ending cycle between the unknown cause of the onset of symptoms, as well as the stress of attempting to control the symptoms.
IBS is a common disorder that affects about twice as many women as men. There is no specific test for it. It often needs to be diagnosed by ruling out other disorders such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or celiac disease. The key component in IBS is that, while it is extremely bothersome and often painful, it does not cause harm to the intestines.
One way to determine if you are at risk for these other disorders is to check for alarming symptoms, which suggest damage to the intestinal track. These symptoms may include anemia and other abnormal blood tests, blood in the stool, unexplained weight loss (not through intentional dieting), fever, new onset of symptoms at age 50 or older, or family history of inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer or celiac disease. If you notice any of these symptoms, you will need to report them to a medical provider who can do further testing.
Treatment for IBS is geared toward understanding the person’s symptoms, severity and level of interference with daily activities. The best way to understand your symptoms, if you feel you may have IBS, is to start a daily diary to help find factors that bring on or worsen symptoms. List your symptoms and how frequently they occur. Try to be as specific as you can. For example, describe where the pain is located, how often it occurs, and what makes it worse or better. Keeping a daily diary for a couple of weeks that lists symptoms and associated activities can help sort this out.
To manage the symptoms often takes a strong relationship between the patient and medical provider creating a highly individualized plan. Do not be afraid to ask questions and write it down before meeting with your health care provider.