Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that can affect the entire gastrointestinal tract. It is most often found in young women and symptoms may worsen due to stress or during menstruation. Typical symptoms of IBS can include bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea or constipation, or both. Symptoms may come and go over time and can alternate between diarrhea and constipation. If you experience these symptoms for an extended period of time, it’s important to talk to a gastroenterologist to see if you have IBS.
One of the key ways to differentiate IBS from constipation is the presence of abdominal pain and bloating; chronic constipation is not normally accompanied by either.
There are other symptoms that can be mistaken for IBS but may actually point to a bigger issue. If you experience any of the following, notify your doctor:
- A family history of other GI diseases, like colon cancer or polyps
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blood in the stools or rectal bleeding
- Nighttime symptoms that awake the individual from sleep
- Change in the symptom quality (e.g., new and different pain)
These symptoms are not an immediate cause for alarm, but it’s important to talk your gastroenterologist about them in case additional testing is needed.
While IBS can be an uncomfortable disorder, it is manageable. The main form of treatment addresses the symptoms of IBS through medication and by identifying factors that may make symptoms worse. While diet or stress do not cause IBS, they can intensify symptoms, which is why diet changes can help minimize adverse reactions. Specifically, the FODMAP diet has proven to help patients find the foods that cause flare-ups and avoid them.
“Dr. Darren Wohl is a board-certified gastroenterologist at Alamance Gastroenterology, practicing at MedCenter Mebane and Alamance Regional Medical Center, and a member of the Cone Health Medical Group. Dr. Wohl received his Doctor of Medicine from Technion - Israel Institute of Technology - Faculty of Medicine in 1994. He completed his residency in internal medicine at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, OH in 1997 and a fellowship in gastroenterology at Mt. Sinai Hospital and MetroHealth Medical Center in 2000. Dr. Wohl is also currently an assistant professor of medicine at Campbell University.”