Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects the large intestine, causing pain in the belly, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, 25 to 45 million people in the United States – and roughly 10 to 15 percent of the worldwide population – are affected by IBS.
While the exact cause of IBS is unknown, there are some factors identified:
• Muscle contractions in the intestine. The walls of the intestines are lined with layers of muscle that contract as they move food through your digestive tract. Contractions that are stronger and last longer than normal can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Weak intestinal contractions can slow food passage and lead to hard, dry stools.
• Nervous system. Abnormalities in the nerves in the digestive system may cause greater than normal discomfort when the abdomen stretches from gas or stool. Poorly coordinated signals between the brain and the intestines can cause your body to overreact to changes that normally occur in the digestive process, resulting in pain, diarrhea, or constipation.
• Inflammation in the intestines. Some people with IBS have an increased number of immune-system cells in their intestines. This immune-system response is associated with pain and diarrhea.
• Severe infection. IBS can develop after a severe bout of diarrhea caused by bacteria or a virus. IBS might also be associated with a surplus of bacteria in the intestines.
• Changes in bacteria in the gut (microflora). Microflora, the “good” bacteria that resides in the intestines, play a key role in health. Research indicates that microflora in people with IBS might differ from microflora in healthy people.
According to Mayo Clinic, you are more likely to have irritable bowel syndrome if you:
• Are young, as IBS occurs more frequently in people under the age of 50;
• Are female, as IBS is more common among women;
• Have a family history of IBS, as genes may play a role, as well as shared factors in a family’s environment or a combination of genes and environment;
• Have a mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression.
Signs and symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation (or both).
However, as Kelly Dickinson, FNP-C, with Trinity Health’s Gastroenterology department, explains, there are symptoms you should not ignore: bleeding, fever, and unexpected weight loss. If those symptoms appear, patients should notify their primary care provider.
“If the primary care provider feels they need a referral to GI, then they will send them,” she said.
Once a gastroenterologist can rule out other diseases, like inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome can be treated through various methods, such as diet changes, lifestyle changes, or FDA-approved medications, Dickinson said. Six to eight weeks after being diagnosed, a follow-up visit will take place to see if signs have improved.
“IBS is considered a chronic condition, but some people can outgrow it,” she said.
While irritable bowel syndrome cannot be cured, it can be prevented, especially by limiting fats, sugar, and caffeine, avoiding tobacco and alcohol, and getting exercise, Dickinson said.
Trinity Health’s Gastroenterology department includes Rukshana Cader, MD; Edmundo Justino, MD; Ira Paul Michaelson, MD; Kelly Dickinson, FNP-C; and Bonnie Ler, FNP-C. They are based at Health Center – Medical Arts, 400 Burdick Expy E, Minot.