Tribune Print Share Text

IBS: the syndrome no one talks about

Created date

March 22nd, 2010

Up to 70% of people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are not receiving medical care for their symptoms. And IBS is very common one in five Americans has symptoms. Cedar Crest. The more you know, the more likely you are to treat symptoms successfully.

About IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder characterized by abdominal cramping, pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. Some people may attribute these symptoms to aging changes. Some people may have always had IBS and not be aware of it. It is unusual to have IBS for the first time later in life. Usually people with IBS will have had symptoms off and on their whole lives, and it just gets worse as they age, says Richard Desi, M.D., gastroenterologist with the Institute for Digestive Health and Liver Disease at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Md. Your doctor may diagnose IBS on the basis of a complete medical history that includes a careful description of your symptoms and a physical examination. IBS symptoms can mimic other digestive problems, Desi says. Diagnostic tests may be performed to eliminate the possibility of other conditions. Some of these tests may include stool sample testing, blood tests, X-rays, or a colonoscopy. Anyone who has a change in their bowel habits needs to be evaluated, Lascari says.

Cause unknown

Researchers have yet to discover any specific cause for IBS. Studies suggest that people who suffer from IBS have a colon, or large intestine, that is particularly sensitive to certain foods and stress. The immune system, which fights infection, may also be involved. Through the years, IBS has been called by many names, among them colitis, mucous colitis, spastic colon, or spastic bowel. However, no link has been established between IBS and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn s disease or ulcerative colitis. IBS does not harm the intestines, nor has it been shown to lead to other diseases like cancer.

Seek treatment to feel better

There is no cure for IBS. Treatment is aimed at relieving your symptoms so you feel better. Medications are an important part of treatment. Many people can control their symptoms by taking medicines such as laxatives, antidiarrhea medicines, antispasmodics, or antidepressants. Be sure your doctor knows about all of your health conditions and any other medications you are taking, Desi says. Antispasmodics, which are often prescribed for IBS, can have side effects (like sedation, dry mouth, urinary retention, or constipation) that may be more severe in older adults. Other medications may make side effects worse.

Examine your diet

For many people, careful eating reduces IBS symptoms, but there are no hard and fast rules. There is no single diet that is going to work for everybody, Desi says. Reducing lactose, which is found in dairy products, can help, especially in people with bloating and diarrhea. That s because lactose intolerance tends to get worse with age and may make IBS symptoms worse. Stick to low-fat foods. High-fat foods tend to be irritating to the gastrointestinal tract, Desi says. Plus there are numerous other health benefits to a low-fat diet, like reducing your risk of heart disease. One piece of advice Desi gives to most of his IBS patients is to increase fiber intake. Fiber is one of the best ways to treat IBS. Make high-fiber choices like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but also ask your doctor about a fiber supplement. Some people may experience a little excess gas when they start increasing their fiber, but that usually goes away once your body gets adjusted to a high-fiber diet. Large meals can cause cramping and diarrhea, so eating smaller meals more often, or eating smaller portions, may also help. People with IBS should try to schedule meals at approximately the same time each day, Lascari adds. Eating regularly can help ease IBS symptoms.

Managing stress

Stress feeling mentally or emotionally tense, troubled, angry, or overwhelmed can worsen symptoms in people with IBS, so stress management is an important part of treatment. Learn what kind of stressors in your life affect your IBS symptoms, Lascari says. Options for managing stress include meditation, regular exercise such as walking or yoga, getting adequate sleep, and seeking counseling and support. Be patient as you learn the best treatment for you. IBS cannot be treated overnight, Lascari says. It may take a while to learn what factors affect you and how to control them.