Irritable Bowel Syndrome--sounds kind of gross, doesn't it?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a taboo subject for that very
reason. Many people have heard the term, but do not know what the
condition entails and therefore just focus on the word "bowel,"
think it's yucky, and move on (I know I am guilty of that one). IBS
is expected to occur in one out of every seven Americans, but most
go undiagnosed. This is presumed for a variety of reasons, but a
predominant cause is a lack of knowledge regarding what it means to
have IBS. So, in recognition of
IBS Awareness Month (yes, that's a thing and, no, I didn't know
either), let's talk about gastrointestinal disorders.
Let's start with the basics. IBS is not a disease in itself, but
rather a pool of symptoms, which include
abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating, gas, and (what you knew
was coming) changes and inconsistencies in bowel movements. In the
past, these were collectively referred to as colitis,
mucous colitis, spastic colon, nervous colon, and spastic
bowel; however, the blanket name for these symptoms was
eventually changed to irritable bowel and it all boils down to
problems with normal intestinal
muscle contractions. Diagnoses of IBS are done basically
through a process of elimination, as there is no definitive test
for the condition.
These symptoms could stem from intolerances for things like gluten
lactose, as the symptoms directly overlap, or they could be
connected to potentially more serious conditions like an aortic
aneurysm or pancreatic/intestinal cancer (thank you, Internet, for
another cancer diagnosis).
Physicians typically first test for the easy and obvious results
through blood or allergy tests and then move on to evaluations like
colonoscopies, but this also depends on the most pressing symptoms
with which a patient presents. The main
symptom that feeds the probability of an IBS diagnosis is the
abdominal pain and, shockingly enough, not anything specifically to
do with the bowels. This was explained to me by my
gastroenterologist, who I went to see when I realized that the
debilitating stomach pains I was having were probably more than
what should be accepted. After allergy tests, blood tests, a CT
scan, biopsies, an endoscopy and colonoscopy all came back oddly
normal (yes, I am 22-years-old and have the joy of knowing what a
colonoscopy is like--buy lots of Crystal Light), my doctor told me
that I would be starting treatment for IBS, which I still find
embarrassing to say because I know the immediate thoughts that pass
through people's heads.
Here are some other things you may not know about IBS:
- IBS is most common in
women and symptoms typically begin to emerge when they are in
- The symptoms come
and go. People with IBS can go very long amounts of time
between flare-ups, making them think that they somehow brought it
on themselves or that the symptoms
are in their heads, delaying the urgency for diagnoses.
factors, such as anxiety or depression, play an active role in
amplifying symptoms, although they are not the cause.
for IBS can range from a simple change in diet (combating
foods that can cause painful bloating is the normal fix) to
probiotics to even anti-anxiety medications. You can try hypnosis as well if that's
Increased awareness of the IBS condition starts with making
those three embarrassing letters less taboo, and that starts with
learning the truth about IBS symptoms and treatments like I