Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common chronic condition that affects the gastrointestinal tract in both men and women. It is characterized by abdominal pain, bloating or gas and altered bowel habits, such as diarrhea and constipation. IBS affects about 10-15% of the U.S. population and is more prevalent in women and in patients under the age of 50. IBS can have a great physical and emotional impact and is a condition that many people are embarrassed to talk about. Therefore, it’s important for patients with IBS to establish a good relationship with their primary care provider or gastroenterologist in order to openly discuss the “sensitive” topic and their bowel symptoms. Office visits to address IBS are often tailored to educate patients, review medications, discuss behavioral modification, including dietary and lifestyle changes, and even sometimes to consider counseling to find symptom relief.
SMG Gastroenterologist, Dr. Cecilia Minano understands how IBS can impact patients on a day-to-day basis, and believes that with education, dietary changes, frequent medical visits and tailored therapies, the quality of life for patients with IBS can be improved. In the below Q&A, Dr. Minano provides information about the condition and offers tips for overcoming some of the daily challenges one may face in its wake.
Q. What are some of the most common symptoms of IBS?
A. Some of the signs and symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain; cramping or bloating; excessive gas and altering bowel habits ranging from diarrhea to constipation.
Q. What causes IBS?
A. The exact cause of IBS remains unknown, but it is an active area of medical research. Some of the current theories include alterations in the microbiome or gut flora, abnormalities in the motility of the intestinal tract, poorly coordinated signals between the brain and digestive tract, and even prior infections caused by a bacteria or virus.
Q. Although the cause is unknown, are there some things that may trigger IBS?
A. Symptoms of IBS can be triggered by stress, food intolerances, food allergies, or hormonal changes. It is important for patients to understand their own triggers by keeping track of factors in their environment that may cause gastrointestinal distress, such as certain foods or stressful situations. A food diary can be helpful to assess if certain foods worsen symptoms.
Q. How is one diagnosed with the conditions?
A. There is no one specific test for IBS. At your office visit, a thorough medical history, review of medications and physical exam are performed. Oftentimes, it is necessary to perform blood tests to rule out anemia, thyroid conditions, celiac disease and to check for elevations in inflammatory markers. Additional testing can include stool analysis, radiological tests and/or endoscopy or colonoscopy (direct evaluation of your digestive track).
Q. Is IBS associated with any other health conditions?
A. Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety and depression are commonly associated with IBS. Sometimes, you may be referred to another health care practitioner to help optimize and co-manage your symptoms.
Q. Are there ways to prevent or ease symptoms?
A. There is no one ‘magic’ pill or manipulation to cure irritable bowel syndrome. Treatment involves multiple different modalities such as dietary changes, lifestyle changes, regulation of bowel habits, and anti-spasm medications. It is important to assess what specific food or environmental triggers can be avoided. Alleviating stress can also help prevent or lessen symptoms. Examples of this include regular exercise, practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation, or even participating in counseling sessions. It is also important to remember that treatment of IBS may not be the same for everyone.
Whether you have recently been diagnosed or you have been struggling with symptoms of IBS for years, you can take control to alleviate some of your symptoms and improve your quality of life. “Don’t be embarrassed to describe your symptoms to your primary care provider or gastroenterologist. Your openness about your physical and emotional symptoms will help us to adequately diagnose and treat your IBS condition. Be prepared for an open dialogue that may require frequent visits with reassurance, medication trials, and adjustment of behavior and lifestyle over time,” says Dr. Minano.
If you are frequently bothered by your digestive symptoms, talk to your doctor or seek out help from a gastroenterologist. Summit Medical Group has a great team of gastroenterologists at various locations ready to help you be your healthiest self!
Dr. Minano has clinical knowledge in inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux, liver diseases, and colon cancer prevention and detection. She works out of SMG’s Glen Ridge and West Orange offices.