Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is not something we necessarily discuss with our neighbors and friends as we pass them in the halls at work or at a community function. However, there is a really good chance that you or someone you know suffers from IBS.
In fact, the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) has reported that about 1 in 5 Americans suffer from IBS, making it one of the most commonly diagnosed conditions. IBS occurs in both men and women, but for adults it’s more common among women and starts before the age of 35 in 50 percent of the cases. Interestingly, in adolescents, IBS affects boys and girls equally; 14 percent of high school students and 6 percent of middle school students report IBS-like symptoms.
IBS is a condition that affects the large intestine. It’s hard to define irritable bowel syndrome without also talking about the symptoms because the symptoms define the condition.
People who suffer from IBS can have cramping, bloating, gas, constipation, abdominal pain and diarrhea. This condition also affects people differently. Some people experience more constipation while others suffer from frequent and sudden urges to have a bowel movement (diarrhea). With IBS it doesn’t have to be one or the other, some patients report having constipation part of the time and diarrhea at other times. Regardless of the symptoms, IBS can put a “cramp” in your day.
A colleague of mine suffers from IBS and he had this to day about his condition:
“No matter where I go or what I do my first priority is to make sure there is a bathroom nearby. One day at work the water got shut off for about an hour and I was so worried I would suddenly need to use the bathroom."
He went on to explain that his IBS is more controlled now because he changed a few things in his diet, but he still looks for the bathroom, no matter where he goes … just in case.
The Mayo Clinic and NDDIC explain that IBS can be caused by a number of factors, which vary from person to person:
- A person’s colon can be spasmodic resulting in diarrhea, or temporarily stop working, causing constipation.
- The individual’s response to stress and certain foods can trigger IBS.
- Serotonin levels are out of balance.
- Some studies have shown that IBS can be a result of a bacterial infection in the gastrointestinal track.
- Hormone levels could also play a factor. Women tend to report having an increase in IBS around their menstrual periods.
Many people suffer for a long time before seeking medical treatment for their IBS. While there is not a cure for it, there are lots of different treatments. You doctor may try antispasmodic medication to help with the symptoms. You can also change your diet to see if that helps. Increasing foods high in fiber could also help with the constipation. If stress is a trigger, your doctor may suggest engaging in stress reduction techniques.
If you are one of the 20 pecent of Amercians who suffer from IBS, don't feel like you need to do so in silence. Talk to your doctor about different treatment options and do some of your own research to see what will work best for you. You can be proactive in your own health. Besides, no one knows you better than you.