A kick in the gut: IBS Awareness Month

Posted on April 30, 2018 by kerri

Irritable bowel syndrome can be a literal pain in the butt—or the gut. Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, affects about 11% of people, so it is quite common. [1] As well, only 30% of people are found to actually see a doctor about the symptoms they are having. [1] IBS is a disease that can greatly affect a person’s quality of life, even if it is not life-threatening. [2]

In difference to other gastroenterological disorders, IBS symptoms don’t have a clear cause: unlike inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), like Crohn’s and Colitis, there is not inflammation present, nor are there major mechanical or identifiable biochemical changes present in the gastrointestinal system. [2] There are three types of IBS based on the symptoms commonly associated with the disorder: IBS-C, with constipation; IBS-D, with diarrhea; or IBS-M, for mixed, with features of both. [2] IBS-U, or “unsubtyped” may also be used if a person’s IBS has yet to be categorized. [2]

Symptoms of IBS for some people come-and-go, sometimes disappearing entirely. [3] In addition to constipation or diarrhea, symptoms of IBS include cramping or pain in the abdomen, gas, and bloating. [3] Because IBS is perceived to be so common, most people with IBS do not consult a doctor about their symptoms. As IBS symptoms can also be symptoms of a more serious condition, it’s important to see a doctor if your symptoms suddenly worsen, or you experience weight loss, sleep interruption due to diarrhea, anemia due to iron deficiency, rectal bleeding, have difficulty swallowing, or vomiting that you can’t explain (ie. repeatedly, or not seeming to be caused by a simple stomach virus). [3] IBS symptoms are typically resolved by having a bowel movement [2]—pain that is unresolved by going to the bathroom is not common with IBS, and should be assessed by a doctor. [3]

IBS is managed based on the type of symptoms experienced. IBS-D is typically treated with anti-diarrhea medicines, IBS-C with fibre supplementation and laxative use. [4] Abdominal pain may be relieved with “anti-spasmodic” medication (to relieve spasms) or tricyclic anti-depressants; gas or bloating can be treated with over the counter medicines like Mylanta. [4] As well, depression or anxiety are common comorbid (co-existing) conditions with IBS, so treating these with appropriate medications may help as well. [4]

Many people think that IBS is linked to a food intolerance, however, the American Academy of Family Physicians notes that food intolerance and IBS do not have an association. [4] Lactose intolerance is common but lactose should only be eliminated if a person has a true lactose intolerance or lactase deficiency (deficient in the enzyme needed to digest lactose). [4] Other food substances thought to exacerbate symptoms may be caffeine as it is a stimulant, alcohol, sorbitol (a lower calorie sweetener [5]), and high-fat foods. [4]

If you have IBS connected with another medical condition you may need a medical ID bracelet or necklace to stay safe.

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