Common Questions Answered About Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a very common condition. It affects the colon and involves pain, cramping and bloating. People who have IBS often suffer from diarrhea or constipation; it is also common to alternate between the two. The condition is not usually severe and can be managed without medication in most cases. However, severe cases of IBS do exist. These usually involve more serious symptoms, like unintentional weight loss, blood in the stool, dark stools, and anemia. These symptoms require the care of a doctor, who should prescribe more tests to figure out if the patient has a more serious illness. No one really knows why people get irritable bowel syndrome, but some people believe that intestinal inflammation or bacterial imbalances in the gut may cause the illness. Many people find that dietary changes and avoidance of stress can help relieve the symptoms. Young people, women, and people who are diagnosed with anxiety seem to be more likely to get IBS. The condition also seems to run in families, suggesting that there is a genetic element involved. Many people have questions about IBS; for example, they may wonder whether they have it. If they do have it, they may wonder how to find relief for it. Here are answers to five of the most common questions about irritable bowel syndrome.

The 5 Important Questions

1. Is IBS the same thing as IBD?

A: No, IBS is not the same thing as IBD. IBD stands for inflammatory bowel disease. This term can refer to either Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, both of which are more serious than IBS. A doctor might test for these diseases in a patient who has gastrointestinal symptoms that seem too extreme to be caused by IBS. One of the main differences between IBD and IBS is that IBD causes inflammation and tissue damage in the intestines while IBS does not.

2. How common is IBS?

A: Irritable bowel syndrome affects about ten to 15 percent of the population, so it is very common. Estimates vary widely, however. According to some research, this condition might even occur in up to 25 percent of the population. Researchers have a difficult time coming up with an exact number because not everyone who has irritable bowel syndrome seeks treatment. Some people might find it embarrassing to talk about, and others simply find that they can manage the symptoms on their own.

3. How is IBS diagnosed?

A: Irritable bowel syndrome is usually diagnosed based on the symptoms that a patient has. There is no specific blood test or scan that can be used to determine whether a person has irritable bowel syndrome. Some doctors test for other conditions, such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and celiac disease, to rule them out. Irritable bowel syndrome is given as a diagnosis if the tests for these disorders come back negative.

4. Why are women more likely than men to get irritable bowel syndrome?

A: Women are more likely to be affected by IBS because of their hormones. Estrogen, progesterone and other hormones fluctuate throughout the month, and this can cause problems with the intestinal muscles. Some women who have irritable bowel syndrome experience constipation during one part of the month and diarrhea during the other part. If a woman's menstrual cycle affects her IBS symptoms, she may find that taking prescription birth control helps.

5. How is IBS usually treated?

A: Treatment for IBS often involves changing the diet and reducing stress. Many IBS patients have certain food triggers that cause their symptoms to get worse. An elimination diet helps many people figure out what their triggers are. Dietary triggers are not the same for everyone. Some people may react to bananas; other people may be fine after eating bananas but find that they are sensitive to artificial sweeteners. Stress is also a common IBS trigger. If dietary adjustments and stress avoidance are not enough to reduce the symptoms of IBS, there are also some medications that can help.

Hopefully, these answers will help put some people's minds at ease. Irritable bowel syndrome is not a fun thing to deal with, but it is manageable with the right information.

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