Episode 111: January 23, 2013
by Sanaz Majd, MD
Since we learned all about the colon in last week’s episode, I thought I’d discuss a common topic that I often encounter in my practice that involves the colon – Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Imagine you’re on a hot date at an exotic restaurant. You knew it may not be the best idea to go there, but you didn’t want to disappoint your date so you agreed to go. Then, sometime after digging into the first course of spinach curry dip, you abruptly find yourself needing to run to the bathroom. You leave your date mid-sentence in a key moment of the heart-wrenching tale about how the family dog died. But what can you do? You have to go – and when you have to go, you have to go quite urgently…number 2, that is. Does this sound like the scene in a funny movie? Yes, but in reality, it’s more common than you think!
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Does this happen to you every time you indulge in your favorite foods? If so, you probably suffer from a very common medical condition called Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
What is IBS?
IBS affects up to 10% of the U.S. population and is 1.5 times more common in women. It tends to happen more in young people, those under the age of 40 (hence, those in the dating pool).
If your date reveals the following oh-so-attractive symptoms on your first date, he or she may be suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome:
Abdominal discomfort, often described as cramping or bloating
Flip-flopping between diarrhea and constipation
Pain that’s relieved by having a bowel movement
A feeling of incomplete evacuation of the bowels
Mucus in the stool
Urgency to defecate
During this hot topic of first-date conversation, you can assure him or her that in order to meet criteria for an IBS diagnosis, the following also need to be met:
Symptoms occur at least 3 days per month
Symptoms last for 3 months minimum
The absence of any other medical conditions that can cause similar symptoms
What Causes IBS?
People with a family history of IBS have a higher chance of developing it – so you can thank your parents for that disastrous evening with the guy you’ve been lusting after for the last 6 months. Thanks Mom and Dad!
Additionally, people who experience stress, anxiety, or depression tend to suffer from IBS more frequently. In fact, studies show that a prior history of physical or sexual abuse is a risk factor in developing more severe IBS symptoms.
Diagnosis of IBS
Diagnosis of IBS is often made through a history and exam by your doctor. However, you may be advised to complete a blood test and a possible stool test (depending on your symptoms). If you have a family history of colon cancer, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (like Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis), or Celiac Disease, make sure to mention that to your doctor.
Treatment of IBS
Before your hunky date deems you the rudest person on the planet, you can reassure him or her that there are some treatment options available for those with IBS:
Exercise and diet: Doctors often recommend starting a food diary to find if there’s a relationship between certain foods and a patient’s IBS symptoms. Also, studies show that those who get regular exercise have fewer IBS symptoms.
Anti-diarrheal medications: Over-the-counter medications can help with the diarrhea, but may not improve the abdominal discomfort as much.
Probiotics: Some studies show that taking probiotics can relieve symptoms.
Anti-spasmodics: Medications that reduce the stomach spasms, like dicyclomine or hyoscyamine, can also help IBS symptoms.
Other treatments, like fiber supplementation, laxatives, and antibiotics have not been shown to improve IBS symptoms.
Could it Be Something More Serious?
If you experience any of the following symptoms, make sure you see your doctor right away:
Unintended weight loss
Progressively worsening abdominal pain
Any of these symptoms could be a sign that something other than IBS is going on and should be communicated to your doctor immediately.
Do you have an embarrassing IBS story? Share it with us and over 1000 fans on the House Call Doctor’s Facebook and Twitter pages! (Ok, or maybe just your tips on dealing with it). If yo have any questions or suggestions for a future topic, send them to email@example.com. Hope you have a bowel-healthy week!
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