How to identify if you have IBS, and more importantly, how to treat it
Your gut gurgles and churns. You’re plagued by gas and bloating, and, not to be too delicate, things in the bathroom just aren’t right. But is it simply a run of the mill rough patch or might it be something more like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
Gastrointestinal distress strikes pretty much all of us at one time or another. The impact of IBS goes beyond garden variety indigestion, however. Wherever you fall in the range of gastrointestinal distress, know that treatment options exist. First, let’s see if you may have IBS or not.
IBS is known as a functional bowel disorder, meaning that your gut likely appears completely normal, with normal results on colonoscopies, blood tests, and stool tests, but that it functions abnormally and can subject you to unpleasant symptoms. Pain associated with IBS is very real and can be quite debilitating, but fortunately it is not dangerous—if you are experiencing IBS pain, your gut is not being damaged, and the pain does not mean that cancer or other diseases are developing.
IBS often begins before the age of 40, and can be related to your environment, health habits, and genes. The exact causes aren’t always clear, but can be linked to hypersensitivity of the nerves connected to the gut, to abnormalities in motility (in how your colon muscles control the walls of your colon), to previous infections or gut microbe shifts, or to how your body handles stress and pain. Currently, no one test diagnoses IBS in all cases, but physicians can often diagnose the condition by assessing sets of symptoms. Some of the most common IBS indicators include:
IBS sufferers say pain often shows up in the stomach and lower bowels, sometimes easing or intensifying after a bowel movement. The pain can be dull and deep, cramping, or sharp enough to make you want to crumple. However you would describe it, if it’s happening regularly and disrupts your routines, your pain could be due to IBS, particularly if it lasts more than six months and if it seems related to your bowel movements. As a reminder, IBS pain is real and can be very impactful, but doesn’t mean damage is occurring.
A little bloat is normal, but bloating that strikes regularly and dramatically could be caused by IBS. Gas is a sign of gut bacteria that aren’t performing at their best, or possibly of an intestinal system that struggles to move gas along at the right rate. (Sadly, all that gas often exits as flatulence.) IBS bloat can come on quickly, even making your belly look pregnant. It may ease off if you eat less of certain types of fiber, exercise regularly, and eat small meals.
A digestive system that lets waste matter linger in the gut can lead to water being absorbed from stool and to subsequent constipation. If constipation plagues you regularly, it could be indicative of IBS. Constipation can feel like having “stoppage” or “block” somewhere in your gut; you may also feel as though you need to shift around a lot, that you constantly “have to go,” or that it’s way more difficult than it should be to pass a stool.
The terrible twin of constipation, diarrhea presents too much of the opposite problem. It often happens when the gut moves food matter along too quickly, not giving the body enough time for stool to solidify. Again, if diarrhea happens regularly, and if you notice that you’re changing your habits to stay closer to a toilet, it might be IBS.
Digestive systems can be a little unpredictable. But a whole new set of bowel habits, a consistent change in your stool, or bowel patterns you haven’t experienced before and that seem to be sticking around longer than a few weeks mean you might be dealing with IBS. Also look out for persistent bloating or unusual abdominal pain.
Abdominal pain and altered bowel habits are two main indicators of IBS. A few other signs include belching, indigestion, nausea, thick mucus on stool, altered appetite, heartburn, dizziness, muscular pain, a strong need to urinate, and fatigue.
While IBS is quite widespread and affects about 15% of Americans, other gastrointestinal conditions can have similar or overlapping symptoms. How can you tell the difference? The following signs aren’t typically part of IBS, so if you notice them, you may be dealing with something else:
Not all gastrointestinal problems are related to IBS or are benign. Indicators that you may need prompt medical attention include:
With time and attention, it is possible to soothe many of the symptoms you may be experiencing. Expert care, such as that offered by Salvo Health, can help as well. We certainly hope you feel better soon.