Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort, and altered bowel habit (chronic or recurrent diarrhea, constipation, or both – either mixed or in alternation).
- IBS affects between 25 and 45 million people in the United States. About 2 in 3 IBS sufferers are female. About 1 in 3 IBS sufferers are male. IBS affects people of all ages, even children.
- Worldwide it’s estimated that 10-15% of the population has IBS.
- Most persons with IBS are under the age of 50. But many older adults suffer as well.
- The exact cause of IBS is not known. Symptoms may result from a disturbance in the way the gut, brain, and nervous system interact. This can cause changes in normal bowel movement and sensation.
- Stress does not cause IBS. However, because of the connection between the brain and the gut, stress can worsen or trigger symptoms.
- The impact of IBS can range from mild inconvenience to severe debilitation. It can control many aspects of a person’s emotional, social and professional life. Persons with moderate to severe IBS must struggle with symptoms that often impair their physical, emotional, economic, educational and social well-being.
- IBS is unpredictable. Symptoms vary and are sometimes contradictory. Diarrhea can alternate with constipation. Long-term symptoms can disrupt personal and professional activities, and limit individual potential.
- Treatments are available for IBS to help manage symptoms. Not all treatments work for all people. Through research, better treatments may be found. Although IBS is common in the general population, few seek medical care for their symptoms.
- Nearly 2,000 patients with IBS reported in a survey by IFFGD that diagnosis of their IBS was typically made 6.6 years after the symptoms began.
- Approximately 20 to 40% of all visits to gastroenterologists are due to IBS symptoms. For those with IBS an additional burden comes from living in a society where the word “bowel” may scarcely be spoken. Individuals must cope with multiple symptoms that affect every aspect of their lives. Those around them may be unaware of the impact, or even the existence, of the disorder.
- IBS can only be diagnosed by a medical professional.
Signs and Symptoms
A number of symptoms that occur together characterize irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This may confuse you at first. Plus, symptoms will likely change over time. The changes may seem random. But there is a pattern to symptoms of IBS.An accurate diagnosis from your clinician is the starting point for appropriate treatment. If you have symptoms, talk to your doctor. Don’t self-diagnose.
IBS Treatments Depend on Symptom Severity
Mild symptoms occur infrequently. They sometimes interfere with normal daily functioning.
Moderate symptoms occur more intensely and frequently. They more often interfere with daily activities.
Severe symptoms are frequent and intense. They chronically interfere with daily functioning.
Whether mild, moderate, or severe all IBS treatment should begin with education about the nature of the disorder…
- IBS is a long-term condition
- Symptoms flare over and over again
- Symptoms can change over time
- The symptoms themselves are not life threatening
- IBS is not a risk for another more serious disease
For moderate symptoms consider…
- Use of a diary, such as IFFGD’s Personal Daily Diary, to help find factors that worsen or bring on symptoms
- Stress management, gut-directed hypnosis, biofeedback, relaxation, or pain management techniques
- Consulting with your physician about the use of drug therapy. This often depends on your dominant bowel symptom
If symptoms are severe, also consider…
- The use and benefits offered by cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Consulting with your doctor about the use of drug therapy for treatment of pain and bowel symptoms.
- Use of a low-dose antidepressant, which acts on pain and other symptoms.
- Seeking referral to a pain treatment center. These specialty centers are usually connected with universities.
IBS treatment starts with getting your facts straight. Learn all you can about IBS. Here are some things you need to know.
What it’s not:
- Is not caused by your diet
- Is not caused by stress
- Is not a risk for cancer
- Is not a risk for colitis
- Does not cause malnutrition
- Does not get worse with age, and
- Does not shorten life span
What it is:
- Is a long-term condition
- Symptoms tend to come and go over time
- Symptoms often change over time
- Symptoms can usually be managed so that you feel better
Are there certain things that seem to worsen your IBS? If so, sorting these out can be helpful. While not causes, things like diet and stress can sometimes influence symptoms. This is not always clear-cut. Using a diary for 2-3 weeks can help identify factors that seem to worsen or trigger symptoms. Discuss your findings with your doctor.
Lifestyle habits do not cause IBS. But minimizing excesses may help reduce or avoid symptom flare-ups. Things like lack of sleep and lack of exercise, prolonged stress, or irregular eating habits can worsen symptoms.
For more information visit www.aboutibs.org.