Irritable bowel syndrome is characterized by uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms, but it’s the effect the health issue can have on one’s everyday life that has the greatest impact on sufferers.
Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, is a health issue that affects up to 20 percent of Americans with a myriad of chronic symptoms such as intermittent bowel pain, altered bowel habits, gas and bloating. The issues may seem minor to most, but for those struggling with IBS it has the power to keep them home from social events or even miss days of work.
“Irritable bowel syndrome is the second-leading cause of absence from work in the United States,” said Rosanne Danielson, MD, with Premier Gastroenterology Specialists in Troy. “It’s an issue that has always been around, but it’s been something that people are more comfortable talking about in recent years.”
Irritable bowel syndrome is thought to be caused by abnormal contractions of the colon. It used to be referred to as “spastic colon,” said Dr. Danielson, who practices with Premier Physician Network. Other possible causes include sensitivity to certain food, a person’s heightened sensitivity to movement in the intestines and possibly anxiety or depression.
The gastrointestinal issue can affect anyone at any age, and some studies support the idea that it may be triggered by a single cause.
“Some people are able to pinpoint the onset of IBS to an infection,” Dr. Danielson said. “They may have experienced perfectly normal bowel movements prior to becoming sick, but then after having the illness began experiencing episodes of abdominal pain.”
Unfortunately, symptoms of IBS can be very similar to other gastrointestinal health issues, making its initial diagnosis difficult.
“There’s no one test that can say, ‘You have it,’ or ‘You don’t have it,” Dr. Danielson said. “The GI tract doesn’t have a lot of vocabulary words when it comes to describing symptoms. People may say they have diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and maybe blood. All of those symptoms can be a variety of issues from cancer to irritable bowel syndrome. That’s why it’s so important for people to have their symptoms checked out by a provider.”
Irritable bowel syndrome is usually diagnosed after other more serious issues are eliminated through testing. A lower GI scope can help physicians like Dr. Danielson rule out cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease. A patient, however, can play a big role in helping to move the diagnosis along:
Set up an appointment — Set up an appointment with your health care provider not long after you begin experiencing new symptoms or a change in bowel habits that can’t be tied to an illness. Symptoms may include diarrhea, constipation, bloating, abdominal pain and gas. Any blood in the stool should always be reported to a physician for examination.
Gather the facts — Take a few moments before your appointment to write down several key points so that they aren’t forgotten. This would include the symptoms you have been experiencing, how long you have experienced them and if there was any change in your lifestyle or health around the time of the change.
Evaluate your diet — Take careful note as to whether you have had any significant change in your diet during the time the symptoms began. Often times, patients will experience a significant change in gastrointestinal behavior simply due to their new goal to eat healthier. An increase in fruits and vegetables, for instance, can create a significant amount of fiber that your system is not familiar with.
Take heart — A diagnosis of IBS can be a positive first step. Many times, simple lifestyle changes such as exercise and a change in diet can help keep the issue at bay. Your physician will help you create a tailored approach to address the issue.
For more information on irritable bowel syndrome or to find a Premier Physician Network physician near you, visit www.premierhealthspecialists.org/gastro.
Rosanne Danielson, MD, is a gastroenterologist with Premier Health Specialists who practices at Premier Gastroenterology Specialists in Troy.