Original RGJ Story:
With symptoms that include bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhea, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) may seem tough to differentiate from the occasional gastrointestinal (GI) issues that seem to affect nearly everyone from time to time. However, when it comes to IBS these uncomfortable GI symptoms tend to crop up more often, and they can range from mild to severe.
“IBS is a condition where the patient experiences chronic abdominal pain and altered bowel habits — constipation or diarrhea,” said Dr. William Pfau, a gastroenterologist with Digestive Health Associates. “Frequently associated symptoms include bloating and gas. Symptoms of IBS tend to wax and wane over time but often are present throughout an entire lifetime.”
Due to the ongoing nature of IBS, the condition is considered chronic. There is no known cure for IBS, so doctors aim to reduce and manage the associated symptoms. In mild cases of IBS, eating more fiber and drinking more water could be enough to decrease the unwanted GI issues. In more severe cases, medication may be necessary.
“There is no cure for IBS. Therefore, treatment of IBS is focused on alleviating the symptoms of pain, constipation and diarrhea,” Pfau said. “Not all treatments are appropriate for all patients, and treatment, therefore, must be tailored to the individual.”
Among the treatments Pfau said are often effective are diet modification, increased fiber intake, probiotics, digestive enzymes, over-the-counter medications for diarrhea or constipation and prescription medications for more severe cases of IBS.
Before setting out to manage IBS, it is important to receive a professional diagnosis in order to rule out other medical issues with similar symptoms. According to a Mayo Clinic report on IBS, the condition is more likely to occur in women and people younger than 45.
“IBS is typically diagnosed by a physician, often with just a consultation and physical examination,” Pfau said. “If a patient’s presentation is typical and the physical examination is normal, no further work-up may be required.
“More severe symptoms, the presence of bleeding or weight loss or the onset of symptoms in middle age or older usually requires additional testing to exclude celiac sprue, microscopic colitis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, cancer and other conditions that may present with similar symptoms,” he said.
For those who do receive a diagnosis of IBS, Pfau said there are no serious health complications associated with the condition, such as weight loss or dehydration, and it does not increase one’s risk for developing other diseases, such as cancer or colitis. The most significant impact of IBS appears to be a potential decrease in quality of life, due to the discomfort associated with more severe symptoms.
“IBS can be severe, meaning that symptoms of abdominal pain and altered bowel habits can be extremely uncomfortable and inconvenient,” Pfau said. “Unfortunately, because the root cause of IBS is not understood, there is no known method to prevent IBS.
“However, if one were to eat a well-balanced diet with adequate fiber — 25 to 30 grams a day — and fluid intake,” he added, “it is less likely that they would experience the milder forms of IBS.