Did you know that April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Month? The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) has recognized April as IBS Awareness Month since 1997. IBS affects between 25 and 45 million people in the United States with two-thirds of those being female. It is estimated that 10-15% of the world’s population suffers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). So what exactly is it? IBS is a disorder characterized by abdominal pain accompanied with diarrhea, constipation or alternating episodes of both. Other symptoms such as gas or bloating may be present as well. There is no cure for IBS but there are ways to manage it.
IBS is considered a brain-gut disorder since the brain controls the functions of the gut and IBS involves changes in gut motility and sensation. When motility is affected, the bowels can move too much or not enough (diarrhea or constipation). The nerves are more sensitive to movement or stretching of the intestines which causes pain. Symptoms can change over time and there may be periods of remission followed by flare ups. The cause of IBS is unknown but may occur in those with a genetic predisposition (family history) or following an intestinal infection or a long-term stressful life event. Getting a diagnosis of IBS usually involves ruling out other possible disorders and will be based on your symptoms. If you are experiencing diarrhea or constipation with abdominal pain, your doctor may test for Celiac’s disease (gluten allergy) before making a diagnosis. Keeping a symptom diary and noting when your symptoms are worse (such as after eating or when stressed) can help you and your doctor better understand how to treat IBS. If it seems there may be a bacterial overgrowth or infection in the intestines, antibiotics may be prescribed. Probiotics have also been studied and found to be helpful in some people, especially when using the strain Bifidobacterium infantis 35624. Other medications may also be prescribed to help manage symptoms. Other treatment may involve learning stress reduction techniques, changing the diet or making lifestyle changes. If you are experiencing symptoms and are not sure what is causing it, talk to your doctor. Getting a proper diagnosis is of first importance. Once you have confirmed a diagnosis, consider seeing a registered dietitian/nutritionist that specializes in gastrointestinal disorders. To find one in your area, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Don’t let those gut feelings get you down. Learn more about IBS here and improve your quality of life.
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