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Irritable Bowel Syndrome and You

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Medical Illustration showing Irritable Bowel Syndrome

GI-North, a gastroenterology practice in Cumming, GA, helps IBS patients to manage painful symptoms.

According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disease that affects the digestive system. Millions of people suffer from IBS. A Johns Hopkins research study estimates that up to twenty percent of people living in the U.S. may suffer from IBS. The disease affects women twice as often as men. Although IBS is an uncomfortable, painful condition—and patients report embarrassment associated with its symptoms—it is not a precursor to colon cancer. Many patients learn to manage their symptoms with the help of an experienced gastroenterologist. GI North, a gastroenterology practice helps IBS patients to manage painful symptoms.

IBS Symptoms

Patients report several common IBS symptoms, including gas/bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal cramping and pain. Patients may also experience periods of constipation and diarrhea. Some individuals may develop a milder form of IBS than others. Since these symptoms mimic the symptoms of a range of digestive diseases, patients should contact Dr. Cofrancesco or Dr. Quijano to arrange an appointment. It is important to see the doctor to obtain an accurate medical diagnosis.

IBS Causes

Researchers note that they do not understand how IBS develops or what causes the condition. A prevalent theory says that some people are born with the tendency to develop IBS because of nervous system sensitivities that control the digestive and intestinal systems.

Food in the stomach is pushed through both intestines by contraction and relaxation of muscles lining the digestive tract. Contraction-relaxation also continues to push waste from food through the intestinal system and, eventually, through the rectum.

When a patient has IBS, his or her contracting muscles may work too aggressively or well, or the contractions may persist longer than the norm. The process may lead to uncomfortable bloating, cramping, or diarrhea. In contrast, if the contracting process is too slow, the patient may experience constipation.

Hormonal Influences, Food Sensitivities

Some researchers believe that hormones may play a role in IBS because more women than men suffer from the condition. Also, IBS symptoms may worsen during the menstrual period.

Other studies indicate that reactions to some foods can cause IBS. For instance, some patients may react to dairy foods while others do not tolerate sugar, alcohol or caffeine. Some vegetables or fruits may cause symptoms, so food allergies are suspected to play a part in IBS episodes. Unfortunately, stress seems to worsen symptoms of IBS in many patients, so it is important to use stress reduction practices such as regular exercise to manage the condition.

Prevention and Management

Most medical researchers say that management of IBS focuses on relieving symptoms during episodes:

  • Adding fiber to the diet helps some people to avoid frequent IBS symptoms. We recommend keeping a food diary to assist in the identification of food or beverage triggers.
  • If a certain food or drink causes symptoms, it is relatively easy to avoid that substance and thereby avoid bloating, cramps, diarrhea, or constipation.
  • Drinking at least eight cups of water and staying properly hydrated also helps some patients to manage IBS.
  • Regular exercise, deep breathing, or other stress reduction strategies can help some patients to manage symptoms.
  • Other patients with more severe symptoms may need medications to control diarrhea or pain associated with intestinal contractions and spasms.


Considerations

IBS symptoms present differently in every patient. Although typical systems include cramps, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, some patients experience constipation-only (or diarrhea-only) episodes. At other times, patients may experience no symptoms.

Rectal or Intestinal Bleeding

Most IBS patients do not suffer the complication of rectal or intestinal bleeding. A small percentage of patients with IBS-related constipation have a tendency to develop anal fissures or hemorrhoids that may predispose them to broken blood vessels. The patient may notice bright red blood after straining to defecate. It is essential for patients with this symptom to notify the office immediately. Bleeding may also indicate another, more serious disease such as colon cancer. Weight loss or fever and anal bleeding may indicate the presence of intestinal inflammation such as colitis. Rectal inflammation, or proctitis, may also cause bleeding. Diverticulitis, a condition in which sacs of the bowel wall are inflamed, may be present and require surgery.

Because bleeding is always a cause for concern, patients should call Dr. Cofrancesco or Dr. Quijano right away to schedule an office visit.

Treatment

Irritable bowel syndrome treatments focus on relieving the patient’s symptoms. Since there is no known cure for IBS, fiber, laxatives, and other medicines may support the patient during IBS episodes. GI North is likely to recommend lifestyle adjustments to improve or eliminate symptoms. Increased fiber can sometimes reduce problematic constipation and stop bleeding that results from anal fissures, tears and hemorrhoids. Since a sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for IBS patients, it is important to include at least thirty minutes of exercise five or more days a week.

Conclusion

November is National Stomach Cancer Month, Pancreatic Cancer Month and GERD month. GI North is a gastroenterology practice located in Cumming, Georgia that serves patients in the greater Atlanta metro area. We welcome new patients. Dr. Simon R. Cofrancesco and his team want to provide every patient with excellent care. With more than twenty years’ experience, Dr. Cofrancesco specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of digestive problems. Arrange an appointment today by calling our office at (404) 446-0600.

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