Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a grouping of symptoms relating to the gastro-intestinal tract. This condition may also be called irritable colon, spastic colon, nervous colon, colitis, mucous colitis, and spastic bowel syndrome.
Oftentimes, there is no evidence of any underlying damage or reason for the systems. It is a long-term, sometimes life-long, disorder that affects the daily life of a person who has it.
It is the most common gastrointestinal disorder in the United States, affecting over 30 million people nationwide.
What are Some of the Symptoms of IBS?
Symptoms of IBS may occur on a daily basis or may be triggered by specific foods or by stress. Sometimes, no specific trigger is identified as a cause for a symptom.
Some typical symptoms of IBS can include:
- Constipation or straining
- Diarrhea (long-term or temporary)
- Alternating diarrhea and constipation
- Abdominal cramping or pain
- A sense of incomplete evacuation (tenesmus)
However, IBS may have some additional, more severe symptoms, including:
- Weight loss
- Unexplained vomiting
- Difficulty swallowing
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Bloody stool
- Psychiatric symptoms: such as anxiety, major depression, and chronic fatigue
How Does Someone Get IBS?
Modern medicine does not have one answer to this question. IBS can have several different potential causes, and in some cases, can still be a mystery. Many cases of IBS are caused by a severe infection – such as food poisoning. Others can be caused by food allergies or diet related issues. There is also a theory that IBS is caused by the communication between the gastro-intestinal tract and the body’s central nervous system.
Could Food Poisoning Cause IBS?
Yes. It is common for someone who has just recovered from a bout of food poisoning to develop IBS. About 10% of people who’ve had food poisoning develop IBS. This is often seen after E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter infections.
The risk factors for developing post-infectious IBS, include:
- The length and severity of the illness
- The health of the infected person, including stress levels, gender, immune system responses, and age
- The capability of the bacteria to produce a toxin (i.e. Shiga-toxin producing bacteria like E. coli O157:H7 or Shigella)
A recent study showed “using a mathematical model, researchers concluded that food poisoning — gastroenteritis — may account for the majority of irritable bowel syndrome cases.”
According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), between 6-17% of individuals who previously had normal bowel function may have developed post-infectious IBS.
Is There a Cure for IBS?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for IBS. But doctors are able to treat the symptoms.
Will Having IBS Make Me Have a Greater Risk for Cancer?
No. According to the Mayo Clinic, “IBS doesn’t cause changes in bowel tissue or increase your risk of colorectal cancer.”
How Does Someone Get Diagnosed with IBS?
There is no one particular laboratory or imaging test ordered by a physician to diagnose IBS.
Typically, a physician may diagnose a patient suffering from IBS by reviewing their medical history and by excluding conditions that produce IBS-like symptoms. For example, a doctor may try to “rule out” other potential disorders first, such as:
- Food allergies
- Celiac disease
- Lactose intolerance
- Bacterial overgrowth
In some patients, a doctor may also order a colonoscopy, in an effort to rule out any other potential maladies.
When these and other disorders have been ruled out, a physician may use IBS as a diagnosis. If that is the case, the type of IBS is determined. Below is a graph that is used to help determine what type of IBS a person may have:
Graph courtesy of Canavan C, West J, Card T. The epidemiology of irritable bowel syndrome. Clin Epidemiol. 2014; 6:71-80.
It is important to note that IBS tends to be under-diagnosed. Oftentimes, people with symptoms of IBS may not think they have the disorder and not seek medical attention. Only about 30% of people with symptoms of IBS will seek medical attention.
What are Treatments for IBS?
There is a wide array of treatments used to quell and manage the symptoms of IBS. Some of these treatments include:
- Reduction of Stress.
Reduction of stress is a good idea for most people recovering from any sort of illness, but physicians have found that it is also helpful in reducing the symptoms of IBS. Talking to a therapist or engaging in calming activities (such as painting, yoga, etc.) have been recommended to assist those in trying to reduce their stress levels.
- Diet Alterations.
For many IBS patients, their diet may be a reason for their symptoms. This is especially true for anyone with food allergies. Artificial sweeteners are not easily absorbed by the digestive tract, so eliminating them altogether could be helpful in reducing gut issues. By eliminating foods that trigger IBS symptoms, someone with the condition can reduce the likelihood of flare-ups.
Not only can regular exercise be good for the body, but it can also help regulate digestion and reduce stress levels.
Some physicians recommend the use of antihistamines to curb the symptoms of IBS. According to according to a 2016 Belgian study published in the journal Gastroenterology,those with IBS who took the antihistamine ebastine for 12 weeks reported reduced symptoms in comparison to those on the placebo.
Some doctors may also prescribe antibiotics to reduce the amounts of bad bacteria in the gut.
Some people who have IBS have found that certain vitamins and supplements have had positive results in dealing with the condition, such as:
Hypnotherapy (therapy by hypnosis) can be an alternative medicine therapy. The American Journal of Gastroenterology“ found that hypnotherapy alleviated IBS symptoms, such as abdominal pain and bloating, in 40% of patients.”
Who is Most Likely to Develop IBS?
Although there is no commonly accepted reason that someone can develop IBS, statistics have shown that there are certain types of people who are more susceptible for developing IBS.
- Higher stress levels and stressful life events were associated with people developing IBS.
- Approximately 25% of cases of IBS were reportedly due to food allergies.
- For people who have a relative with IBS, the chances of them also developing IBS is twice as likely as someone without a genetic link.
- In a recent study, a mathematical model was used to predict “a greater incidence of the disease for populations at a higher risk of these kinds of infections, such as military personnel.” The study further comments that, among high risk groups (such as deployed military personnel), 9 percent of that population would develop IBS in a six-month time frame after a bout of food poisoning.
- Apart from the study, statistics show that IBS is typically diagnosed in a person under 45 years of age.
- Females are about two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with IBS than men. There are theories that IBA symptoms may also be tied to hormonal changes. According to Gina Sam, MD, director of the Mount Sinai Gastrointestinal Motility Center in NYC, reproductive hormones can influence gut hormones.
How Long Does It Take IBS to Go Away?
In most cases, IBS is a long-term condition. However, with treatment, a person with IBS can learn to cope with and manage the condition.