Constipation? Diarrhea? BOTH? Irritable bowel syndrome could be the culprit.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome IBS, Health Network News

Irritable bowel syndrome can cause a host of painful bowel problems

SUMMARY: IBS affects millions of Americans, mostly women. Common symptoms are pain & bowel habit disruption. Lifestyle changes can be effective in managing the disorder.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects 25 to 45 million Americans, the majority of whom are women. It typically occurs between the late teens to early 40s, and presents with a mix of pain and bowel habit disruption.

Fortunately, IBS is not life-threatening and doesn’t predispose you to more serious colon disorders such as Crohn’s disease or colon cancer.

What are the symptoms of IBS?

The most common symptoms include:

  • Constipation
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation
  • Gas and bloating
  • Swollen, protruding belly
  • Lower abdominal cramps that are worse after meals but better after a bowel movement
  • Stools that are harder or looser than normal
  • Some patients also experience sexual symptoms or urinary problems

Patients may find that stress makes their symptoms worse.

What are NOT the symptoms of IBS?

Please see your doctor immediately if you have any of the following symptoms. These symptoms are not typical of IBS and may indicate a more serious condition like colon cancer:

  • Weight loss
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Abdominal pain that occurs or gets worse at night

How is IBS diagnosed?

There are not specific laboratory tests to diagonse IBS; instead, IBS is diagnosed by ruling out other conditions, including:

  • Medication side effects – high blood pressure drugs, some antacids, and iron supplementation are frequent culprits.
  • Food intolerances or allergies – including lactose intolerance
  • Inflammatory bowel disorders – Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis have similar symptoms to IBS
  • Infections – including parasites
  • Enzyme deficiencies – these can prevent food from being properly digested

To screen for the above disorders, your doctor may order blood tests, stool tests, or outpatient medical procedures to look at your esophagus and intestines.

April is IBS Awareness Month. If you think you might be suffering from IBS, we encourage you to speak with your family physician or a gastroenterologist for a medical evaluation. In most cases, IBS can be managed effectively with a combination of stress reduction and lifestyle changes.

Resources: Mayo Clinic and WebMD websites.

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