Irritable Bowel Syndrome

What is it?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a cluster of symptoms, consisting of abdominal discomfort, bloating, constipation, and/or diarrhea. Some IBS patients experience alternating diarrhea and constipation. Mucus in and around the stool is commonly noticed.

It is helpful to know what IBS is NOT!
It is not a cancer and will not cause cancer
It is not an anatomic or structural defect
It will not cause other gastrointestinal diseases
It will not progress to a more serious disorder

IBS in Women
IBS is among the most common gastrointestinal disorders for which women seek medical attention. While the disease itself is not inherently different in women than in men, it is much more common among women by a 3 to 1 ratio. The first symptoms of IBS usually begin in teenage years or early adult life. It is rare for IBS to start after the age of 50 years. Symptoms of IBS are often worse during the first few days of the menstrual cycle. Patients with IBS often suffer from depression and may have suffered physical or sexual abuse.

If you think you have IBS, see a doctor.
Talking with your doctor about your problem is the first helpful step, because we all fear the unknown. Your doctor may order a series of tests to make sure that there is no other underlying disease causing your symptoms.

Signs That Suggest You May Not Have IBS 
weight loss
rectal bleeding
change in a stable bowel habit
unremitting or prolonged abdominal pain
family history of colon cancer or inflammatory bowel disease

What can help symptoms of IBS?
Psychological Relief: Stress may be a factor contributing to symptoms of IBS. You may need to learn relaxation techniques, participate in regular exercise, a hobby you enjoy, or even attend counseling sessions to help control the stressful situations in your life.

Watch your diet: Avoid or limit your consumption of gas-producing foods such as beans, onions, broccoli, cabbage, or any other foods that you have identified which aggravate your IBS symptoms. Try to slow down and enjoy your food at mealtimes. Eating rapidly and chewing gum may lead to air swallowing and symptoms of abdominal distention and pain. Drinking carbonated drinks (sparkling drinks, pop, soda) can introduce gas into the intestines and cause abdominal pain. Avoid skipping meals or overloading at one sitting.

Intolerance to milk sugar, lactose, is seen in up to 40% of patients with IBS. Among those individuals with lactose intolerance, avoiding dairy products or taking lactase enzyme replacement therapy may be very helpful in reducing symptoms. If constipation is the primary symptom, the addition of wheat bran or fiber supplements maybe helpful. Remember that changes in your diet should be made gradually, allowing your body time to adapt.

Medications for IBS
There are several new medications for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome and related functional GI disorders, and, pending final approval by FDA, may soon offer new treatment options and potentially improved outcomes for some IBS patients. If you suffer from IBS and have not achieved successful results with medications currently available, consult with your physician so that the possibility of improved results with a newer medication can be evaluated. As of this writing, the following medications are available and typically used in treatment of IBS.

Medications for IBS 
Symptom Medicine
Constipation fiber supplements, laxatives, increase liquid intake
Diarrhea fiber supplements, Loperamide HCl, Imodium®, anti-cholinergics
Intestinal spasms anti-cholinergics, hyoscyamine sulfate, Levsin®, dicyclomine HCI, Bentyl®
Other anti-depressants, mood elevating medicines

Remember, IBS is not life-threatening, it will not require surgery and it will not lead to other serious diseases. Most patients can be helped if they work with and follow the recommendations of their doctor.