Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a relatively common gastrointestinal problem that primarily affects the large intestine. It’s known to cause a wide range of issues in the digestive tract, including cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, excess gas, diarrhea or constipation, and even both.
IBS is a chronic condition that must be managed over the long term. While it’s relatively common, the majority of people with IBS don’t experience the worst symptoms. Many can manage their symptoms by altering diet and reducing stress. Medications are also available, which can improve the quality of life for those affected.
While the signs and symptoms of IBS can vary significantly, by far, the most common include things already listed, such as cramping, pain, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation. However, as things progress, you may begin to notice more severe symptoms that require attention from a doctor as soon as possible. These include weight loss, rectal bleeding, vomiting, and difficulty swallowing.
Symptoms are often triggered by different stimuli. For some people, this just means hormonal changes, while for others, it could be the result of stress. Another known cause of IBS is eating particular foods, although this isn’t yet well understood.
Many people living with IBS report a decreased quality of life. It’s not uncommon to be forced to miss important events because of a flare-up. When persistent, these issues can lead to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Likewise, depression and anxiety can make the symptoms of IBS much worse.
We don’t know the precise cause of IBS, but researchers have identified many factors that seem to play an important role. This variable list of potential causes includes things as different as muscle contractions, inflammation, infection, nervous system abnormalities, and changes in the microbiome. This illustrates why it’s so important to talk to your doctor if you believe you’re experiencing any issues.
Most people will have the occasional symptom or two of IBS, but there is a well-documented list of risk factors that increase your chances of having the condition. For instance, the majority of people who develop IBS are under the age of 50, with women being twice as likely than men to have IBS. Family history is also shown to increase chances, especially when combined with common environmental factors.
Estimates suggest IBS affects somewhere between 25 and 45 million people across the United States alone. It’s a widespread gastrointestinal problem, with about 20-40% of visits to gastroenterologists every year are related to IBS.
If you have any concerns that you or a loved one could be struggling with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, don’t hesitate to see a doctor as soon as possible. While there is no cure for IBS, proper treatment plans can significantly improve the quality of life for those affected. Only your doctor can accurately diagnose the issue and get you on the road to taking control of your life.