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IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is a condition that is often misunderstood. IBS is not a disease but rather a disorder that causes symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, and changes in bowel habits. IBS can be caused by different things like emotional stress, dietary factors, and infection.

IBS is a very common disorder, affecting 1 in 5 adults in the United States. IBS is not life-threatening, but it can be very uncomfortable and distressing. Treatment for IBS often includes making dietary changes, managing stress, and taking medication. If you think you may have IBS, talk to your doctor.

What Causes IBS?

IBS has a multi-factorial cause, meaning that there are several factors that can contribute to the development of IBS. These factors include:

  • Emotional stress: Emotional stress can trigger IBS symptoms or make them worse. Stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or job loss, can trigger IBS. Ongoing stress, such as caring for a sick family member or financial strain, can also contribute to IBS.
  • Dietary factors: Certain foods can trigger IBS symptoms, such as fatty or fried foods, dairy products, spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol, and chocolate. Foods that contain gluten may also trigger IBS symptoms in people with gluten sensitivity.
  • Infection: A gastrointestinal infection, such as a viral stomach flu, can sometimes trigger IBS.

What Are the Symptoms of IBS?

The most common symptom of IBS is abdominal pain or discomfort that is often relieved by having a bowel movement. Other symptoms of IBS include:

  • Changes in bowel habits: People with IBS may have diarrhea, constipation, or alternating bouts of both. Diarrhea is defined as having loose, watery stools three or more times a day. Constipation is defined as having hard, difficult-to-pass stools less than three times a week.
  • Bloating: IBS sufferers often feel bloated or gassy.
  • Cramping: IBS sufferers may experience abdominal cramping.

IBS symptoms can vary from person to person and range from mild to severe. IBS symptoms are also often worse during periods of stress.

How Is IBS Diagnosed?

There is no one test that can diagnose IBS. Instead, the diagnosis is made based on the presence of certain symptoms and ruling out other conditions that could be causing those symptoms. To make a diagnosis of IBS, your doctor will likely:

  • Review your medical history: Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and when they began. They will also ask about your medical history, including any gastrointestinal infections or other illnesses you’ve had.
  • Perform a physical exam: Your doctor will perform a physical exam to look for signs of IBS and other conditions.
  • Order tests: Your doctor may order tests, such as a blood test or stool sample, to rule out other conditions. They may also order a colonoscopy to check for inflammation or other problems in the gastrointestinal tract.

What Is the Treatment for IBS?

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for IBS, as symptoms and severity can vary from person to person. Treatment for IBS often includes making dietary changes, managing stress, and taking medication.

  • Dietary changes: IBS sufferers may find that certain foods trigger their symptoms. Eliminating these trigger foods from your diet may help to lessen your symptoms. It’s also important to eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes plenty of fiber. Soluble fiber, found in oats, beans, and lentils, can help to reduce IBS symptoms. Insoluble fiber, found in wheat bran and vegetables, can help to relieve constipation.
  • Stress management: Managing stress can be helpful in reducing IBS symptoms. Stress-reducing techniques such as relaxation therapy, yoga, or meditation may help to lessen IBS symptoms.
  • Medication: There are several types of medication that can be used to treat IBS, including antispasmodics, which relieve abdominal pain and cramping; laxatives, which relieve constipation; and antidepressants, which can help to reduce stress and anxiety. Your doctor will work with you to find the best medication or combination of medications to treat your IBS.

If you think you may have IBS, talk to your doctor. They can help you to identify any trigger foods that may be worsening your symptoms and develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.

New York Gastroenterology Associates (NYGA) is a premier independent gastroenterology practice in New York City. Recognized for providing the highest quality gastroenterological care. We provide consultation and a wide range of ambulatory tests at our offices throughout New York City. You can request an appointment right now to get the help you need!