Nearly 15% of adults in the United States are affected by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Katherine Freeman, MD, Catholic Health Gastroenterologist at Catholic Health Ambulatory Care at Lake Success, answers commonly asked questions about IBS.
What is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder that typically causes stomach pain and cramps. Triggers that can cause an IBS flare-up vary by person and will be evaluated by a gastroenterologist to help with managing symptoms.
What are the types of IBS?
- IBS with constipation (IBS-C)
- IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D)
- IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M)
Who is most likely to develop IBS?
Women are more likely than men to develop IBS. Diagnosis of IBS typically occurs in patients under 40, but cases in the geriatric population are increasing.
What causes IBS?
The exact cause of IBS remains unknown. But certain factors play a role in an increased likelihood of developing IBS, including.
- Motility issues (contraction of the muscles that mix and propel contents in the gastrointestinal [GI] tract)
- Nervous system sensitivity
- Food sensitivity
- Family history of IBS
- Stress, especially early life stress
What factors can trigger an IBS flare-up?
- Mental health (including stress, anxiety, depression)
- Food (including lactose and gluten sensitivities)
Your gastroenterologist will work with you to identify your triggers and find solutions to minimize occurrences.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
Symptoms vary by person. Schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist if you are experiencing common symptoms that include:
- Stomach pain, cramps and/or bloating
- Excessive gas
Contact your doctor immediately if you are experiencing more serious symptoms, including:
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Rectal bleeding
- Unexplained vomitting
- Weight loss
What are the treatments for IBS?
There is no universal treatment for IBS. Your gastroenterologist may recommend:
- Dietary modification
- Lifestyle modification
- Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications (anti-diarrhea, anti-spasmotics, anti-depressants, laxatives)
What diet changes help manage IBS?
A trial of a low FODMAP diet, gluten-free diet or lactose-free diet will be recommended depending upon evaluation of a patient's symptoms and triggers.
What other lifestyle changes help manage IBS?
Stress management plays a large role in managing IBS. Also, exercise and maintaining a healthy weight.
Is IBS a lifelong illness?
Yes, IBS is typically a lifelong issue that is managed as a chronic issue.
Does IBS increase my risk for colon cancer?
There is no correlation between IBS and an increased risk for colon cancer.
How often should a patient seek care for IBS?
At least every 6-12 months, especially with new treatment options that are becoming available. Also, to make sure that nothing is being missed that IBS may be masking.
Call 866-MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.