What do talk show and America’s Next Top Model host Tyra Banks and Real Housewife of Beverly Hills Camille Grammar have in common? They have both spoken about their battles with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. And they are not alone – in 2007, actress Cybill Shepherd was a spokeswoman for Zelnorm (a drug for IBS no longer on the market) which she used to treat her IBS. Wonder Woman Lynda Carter also became an advocate for IBS research after her mother was diagnosed with IBS after suffering for 30 years. The severe abdominal pain suffered by Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was caused by IBS and may have even lead to his use of heroin to relieve that pain.
IBS is very common, affecting an estimated 9% to 23% of the world’s population. In 1997, the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) designated April as IBS Awareness Month. Their mission is to focus attention on important health messages about IBS diagnosis, treatment, and quality of life issues.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a group of symptoms, the most common symptoms of which are abdominal pain or discomfort (often reported as cramping), bloating, gas, diarrhea, and/or constipation. IBS affects the colon, or large bowel, which is the part of the digestive tract that stores stool. IBS a functional disorder, meaning that the bowel doesn’t work, or function, correctly.
What causes IBS?
Doctors are not sure what causes IBS. The nerves and muscles in the bowel appear to be extra sensitive in people with IBS. Muscles may contract too much when you eat. These contractions can cause cramping and diarrhea during or shortly after a meal. Or the nerves may react when the bowel stretches, causing cramping or pain. BS can be painful. But it does not damage the colon or other parts of the digestive system. IBS does not lead to other health problems.
The main symptoms of IBS are:
Other symptoms include:
Women with IBS often have more symptoms during their menstrual periods.
How is IBS diagnosed?
The doctor may suspect that you have IBS because of your symptoms. Specific symptoms, called the Rome criteria, can be used to more accurately make this diagnosis. Medical tests may also be done to make sure you don’t have any other health problems that cause the same symptoms.
In addition to a physical exam and blood tests, the following tests might be done to diagnose IBS:
Lower gastrointestinal (GI) series. This test uses x rays to diagnose problems in the large intestine. It is also called a barium enema x ray. Before you have the x ray, the doctor will put barium into your large intestine through the anus—the opening where stool leaves the body. Barium is a thick liquid that makes your intestines show up better on the x ray.
Colonoscopy. For this test the doctor inserts a long, thin tube, called a colonoscope, into your anus and up into your colon. The tube has a light and tiny lens on the end. The doctor can view the inside of your colon on a big television screen. In some cases, a shorter tube, called a flexible sigmoidoscope, is used to look at just the lower portion of the colon.
How is IBS treated?
IBS has no cure, but you can do things to relieve symptoms. Treatment may involve
You may have to try a few things to see what works best for you. Your doctor can help you find the right treatment plan.
Some foods and drinks make IBS worse:
To find out which foods are a problem, keeping a food diary may be helpful.
Some foods seem to make IBS better:
The doctor may give you medicine to help with symptoms.
Does stress cause IBS?
Emotional stress does not cause IBS. But people with IBS may have their bowels react more to stress. So, if you already have IBS, stress can make your symptoms worse.
Learning to reduce stress can help with IBS. With less stress, you may find you have less cramping and pain. You may also find it easier to manage your symptoms. Meditation, exercise, hypnosis, and counseling may help. You may need to try different activities to see what works best for you.