Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is a functional bowel disorder of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract characterized by recurrent abdominal pain and discomfort. It’s often accompanied by changes in bowel function as well as diarrhea, constipation or a combination of both, typically over months or years. The severity of the disorder varies from person to person
According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), 25-45 million people in the United States have IBS. IBS usually starts in early adulthood, affecting twice as many women as men. Approximately 10-20% of the population has IBS but at least half of all sufferers never seek medical attention. IBS can be uncomfortable however it does not lead to serious disease, such as cancer. Most people with IBS can ease symptoms with changes in diet, medicine, and stress relief.
Some people experience symptoms that come and go and are just mildly annoying. Others have such severe daily bowel problems that IBS affects their ability to work, sleep and enjoy life. In addition, symptoms may change over time. A person may have severe symptoms for several weeks and then feel well for months or even years. Symptoms vary from person to person but may include cramps or pain in the stomach, constipation &/or diarrhea, mucus in the stool, swollen or bloated stomach area, gas, and/or feeling uncomfortably full or nauseous after eating a normal size meal. Additionally, women with IBS may have more symptoms during their menstrual periods. Many women (with and without IBS) experience variations in gastrointestinal symptoms during their menstrual cycle. Several studies also suggest that women with endometriosis have greater bowel symptoms compatible with a diagnosis of IBS.
Symptoms of IBS can be triggered by various things including stress, hormones, and food. Many people have worse IBS symptoms when they eat or drink certain foods or beverages. Your doctor may recommend changes to your diet which includes eliminating high-gas foods, gluten, or FODMAPs. Doctors may treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) by recommending changes in what you eat and other lifestyle changes, medicines, probiotics, and mental health therapies. You may have to try a few different treatments to see what works best for you. Some changes your doctor may recommend include eating more fiber, avoiding gluten, following a low FODMAP diet, increasing your physical activity, reducing stressful situations, and/or getting enough sleep. He or she may also recommend certain medications to help ease IBS symptoms.
If you or someone you know have any of the symptoms described, speak with a medical professional. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you will be on the path to feeling better.
By Gina Stallone