Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: Raising Awareness of IBS Starts with a Change in Attitude

Raising Awareness of IBS Starts with a Change in Attitude

Recruitment Specialist

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.

IBS

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 or 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 their 20s.
  • 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.
  • Psychological factors, such as anxiety or depression, play an active role in amplifying symptoms, although they are not the cause.
  • Treatments 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 more your speed.        

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 did.

 

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