Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Introduction1
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a difficult disorder for physicians and for patients because symptoms occur in the absence of definite intestinal pathology. What this basically means is that patients have symptoms of GI upset, cramping, diarrhea, and/or constipation but physicians don’t have anything specifically to treat. Additionally, the cause remains unknown. Nonetheless, theories exist at least on the mechanisms behind IBS and treatments are available.
Overview and Prevalence
Symptoms of IBS come and go. As previously mentioned, symptoms usually include altered bowel habits, which may include diarrhea, constipation, or both. Abdominal pain or discomfort is also common as is urgency. The abdominal pain is usually relieved by defecation. Patients may also have mucus in their stools; however, patients with IBS do not have blood in their stools. Bloody stools are never associated with IBS and should alert the patient and the physician to seek out another cause of the patient’s symptoms.
General consensus is that the cause of IBS is multifactorial. The disease probably results from a combination of altered intestinal motility (moving stuff through either too quickly or too slowly), increased sensitivity to pain in the intestinal tract, and psychiatric disturbances. The association between IBS and psychiatric issues is uncertain. However, patients who seek treatment for IBS have a higher incidence of various disorders, including panic disorder, anxiety disorder, and major depression among many others.
IBS is a common disorder, probably present in at least 1 out of every 10 people. Unfortunately, IBS is an embarrassing disorder for many and too few people actually seek treatment. It is important to realize that if you have IBS you are not alone. You should talk to your primary care provider about available treatment options.