Frequently Asked Questions about IBS
Frequently Asked Questions about IBS
Q: What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
IBS is one of a spectrum of diseases known as Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. These diseases are all characterized by chronic or recurrent gastrointestinal symptoms for which no physical or biochemical cause can be found.
IBS is a disorder characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort, and altered bowel habit (chronic or recurrent diarrhea, constipation, or both – either mixed or in alternation).[i]
Q: What is the prevalence of IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder with worldwide prevalence rates ranging from 9–23% and U.S rates generally in the area of 10–15%.[ii]
Q: What causes IBS?
The exact cause of IBS is not known. Many patients with IBS report that their first symptoms began during or shortly after periods of major life stressors such as a divorce, death of a loved one, or school exams. Some also report their symptoms started during or shortly after recovering from a gastrointestinal infection or abdominal surgery. However, though these events may be associated with the onset of IBS, they do not “cause” IBS.
Q: Will I ever be cured of IBS?
There is no known “cure” for IBS. However, IBS symptoms may fluctuate over time. Some people find that IBS flares up during times of stress or crisis, and then subsides once the stressful event has passed. Others report that IBS strikes seemingly randomly and without warning and never completely goes away. One study showed that about half of IBS patients still reported symptoms 5 years after their initial diagnosis. Almost everything about IBS is different for everybody.
Q: What causes IBS to flare up?
Sometimes eating a certain food that you are sensitive to will cause IBS symptoms to flare up. The type of food that causes symptoms varies with the individual. (There is no one universal food trigger for IBS.) Besides food triggers, IBS symptoms may be brought on by stress, illness, a GI infection or surgery, or for no apparent reason.
Q: Is IBS all “in my head”?
No. IBS is a recognized condition that is diagnosed by specific criteria (see Rome Diagnostic Criteria for IBS). Some studies have shown that psychological disturbances are more common in IBS patients than the general population. However, IBS is not caused by psychological problems, rather, different people respond differently to their IBS and IBS symptoms, depending on a number of psychosocial factors. In plain English, constantly dealing with the pain and other symptoms of IBS may cause you to be anxious and upset – who wouldn’t be?
Q: What effect will IBS have on my lifestyle?
IBS is different for everyone. It can be nothing more than a mild annoyance, completely debilitating, or anywhere in between. Not everyone experiences all the same symptoms, nor the same severity of symptoms. How much it affects your lifestyle depends on how severe your symptoms are, and how you treat it. However, you should be aware that in general, patients with IBS have a higher rate of hospitalizations, work absenteeism, feelings of poor quality of life, and abdominal surgeries than healthy controls and patients with other gastrointestinal illnesses.
Q: Can IBS progress to cancer or other life-threatening diseases?
No. IBS has not been linked to any type of cancer. Nor is there any evidence that IBS leads to other gastrointestinal diseases (Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis).
Q: What are the treatments for IBS?
This is a tough question. Treatment options are many and varied, and since IBS affects each person differently, the right treatment for each person will also be different. Also, I personally have found it difficult to find a doctor who knows enough about IBS and the treatment options to work through it with me. I was prescribed an antispasmodic medication, and told to look on the internet for a diet to follow. In this way, most of us are left to find out what works for us by trial and error. That is why there are so many pills and potions out there. We get so frustrated, and so confused with all the options, that we are willing to try anything in the hopes that something will work.
I recommend that you try going to a Naturopathic doctor. They are more likely to look at alternative therapies besides medications, and help you to complete an elimination diet to find what foods are triggers for you (see Elimination Diet).
So, back to the question of the treatment options. As I mentioned, there are many, and not everything will work, or even be indicated for everyone. Having said that though, treatment for IBS may consist of one or more of the following:
- Dietary changes, such as avoiding your trigger foods, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and perhaps adding more fiber (soluble &/or insoluble);
- lifestyle changes, such as exercise and stress management;
- pharmacological treatment, such as antispasmodics, anti-gas, anti-diarrhea medications, and anti-depressants;
- natural or herbal remedies (mint, ginger, chamomile, meditation and relaxation therapy, hypnosis, acupuncture, massage therapy, biofeedback therapy, probiotics), and
- psychological treatment. [iii]
Q: What treatments for IBS do you recommend?
I will get around to telling you what works for me in later entries. As I have mentioned before, IBS is different for everyone, and will require different treatments for everyone. The first, and most important thing for you to do is to educate yourself, which is what you are doing now by reading this. You need to understand your condition, and how it affects you before you can decide which treatments are right for you. I will discuss the treatment options in more detail in the next blog. For right now, continue keeping your food and symptom journal so that you will know which foods are triggers for you.
[i] http://www.aboutibs.org/site/what-is-ibs/facts (accessed July 23, 2014)
[ii] http://www.aboutibs.org/site/what-is-ibs/facts/statistics (accessed July 23, 2014)
[iii] http://www.healingwell.com/library/ibs/faq.htm (accessed July 24, 2014)Printer Friendly Version