IBS computer graphic

The medical community is still unsure of the specific cause of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). They do know that certain people are predisposed to getting it. Most symptoms seem to be the result of the colon’s muscle contractions. IBS is connected to increased sensitivities to food, having more gas, or erratic unexplainable changes in stool. The bowel tends to overreact to different factors which bring about symptoms. Some examples that cause the bowel to overreact include eating certain foods, emotional stress, menstruation, gas, or GI infections.

What IBS is Not!

Even though the causes of IBS are not clearly understood, doctors do agree that it is a real condition and that it affects thousands of people daily. It used to be widely thought that the symptoms were just “in your head.” Doctors no longer believe this. IBS is a real condition which is complicated to treat. Here are some of the things IBS is not:

  • IBS is not a structural or anatomical problem.
  • It is not a chemical or physical disorder.
  • IBS is not cancer, and it cannot cause cancer.
  • It does not cause other gastrointestinal diseases.

Diagnosing Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Obtaining an official diagnosis of IBS is an important part of your treatment journey. However, it can take several months to get a clear-cut diagnosis. Your symptoms will need to be tracked for at least six months. The frequency of symptoms needs to have occurred at least three times in the previous three months. IBS involves pain and discomfort in the abdomen. The pain should have at least two of these three characteristics before it can be diagnosed as IBS:

  • The pain is relieved by defecation
  • It is associated with changes in how frequently you empty your bowels
  • It is associated with a noticeable change in the form or appearance of stool

Wide-Spread Symptoms Associated with IBS

Between 6 and 18% of people worldwide are affected by IBS. The condition is characterized by changes in the form and frequency of bowel movements. Because the triggers vary widely between individuals, it is difficult to name specific foods, stressors, or triggers for everyone to avoid. Inadequate sleep, diet, stress, and changes in gut bacteria may be triggers. Symptoms are similar in that each individual may have totally different types of symptoms. However, there are some IBS symptoms that are most common and can be helpful in obtaining a diagnosis.

  • Abdominal Cramps and Pain – The most common symptom and key factor in making a diagnosis is abdominal pain. The pain is usually located in the lower portion of the abdomen and often goes away after a bowel movement. Medications, making changes to your diet and stress-reducing therapies may help alleviate pain.
  • Diarrhea – For many who suffer from IBS, frequent loose stools are common. You may also notice mucus in stools.
  • Constipation – IBS sufferers may also experience constipation. However, having abdominal pain that subsides following a bowel movement and you feeling like you need to pass more stool, is common with IBS.
  • Alternating Diarrhea and Constipation – About 1/5 of patients who have IBS experience alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation. 
  • Distinct Changes in Bowel Movements – When you have IBS, it affects how long stool remains in the intestines. This affects how much liquid is retained in the stool which makes it range from watery and loose to dry and hard.
  • Bloating and Excessive Gas – Some of the most common symptoms of IBS are gas and bloating. Some dietary changes can help reduce bloating.
  • Food Intolerances – Around 70% of patients suffering with IBS notice certain foods that trigger symptoms. 
  • Trouble Sleeping and Fatigue – Those who suffer from IBS often report being fatigued. They often get less quality sleep which leads to more GI symptoms.
  • Anxiety and Depression – Dealing with the vicious cycle of digestive symptoms often increase anxiety, and that leads to more digestive problems.

What To Do If You Think You Have IBS

If you experience symptoms of IBS that interfere with your quality of life, talk to your primary care physician. They may refer you to a GI specialist who can run a series of tests to rule out other conditions. A gastroenterologist can help you identify your specific triggers and make recommendations on how to control your symptoms. They can also prescribe medications that may help alleviate or reduce symptoms.

If you or someone you love is experiencing any combination of these common IBS symptoms, especially if they’ve been occurring for six months or more, contact us at Pinnacle partners to find a GI specialist near you.