When your stomach doesn’t feel right, it can really throw a wrench in your plans. Sometimes you may eat a food that doesn’t agree with you, or you occasionally catch a stomach virus. Fortunately, these episodes are short-lived, and most people recover quickly.
When you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), however, you experience digestive problems regularly. But because there’s no standard test for this all-too-common condition, many people struggle with it for years before getting a diagnosis.
Symptoms of IBS
People who have IBS will experience digestive symptoms over a long period of time. Typically, you may have IBS if you experience the following issues at least three times per month:
- Abdominal cramping
- Pain or discomfort that improves after having a bowel movement
IBS doesn’t damage the intestine or increase your risk for diseases, so it’s not a life-threatening condition. But its symptoms can certainly cause problems in your personal and professional life. Having to deal with abdominal discomfort or worry about running to the bathroom at inopportune times can be inconvenient, uncomfortable, or even embarrassing.
Identifying IBS and its triggers
The first step to getting relief is to talk with your physician about your symptoms. In some cases, you may need to have tests done to rule out other conditions.
Your physician may ask you to keep a diary of what you eat and your symptoms. Sometimes you can identify certain foods or types of foods that make your symptoms worse, and you can avoid them in the future. Although experts don’t think foods cause IBS, they do know that some foods can make symptoms worse.
Stress management may also be explored as a potential treatment. High stress levels tend to trigger IBS attacks in many people. Your physician can talk with you about ways to help manage stress or anxiety.
Depending on your symptoms, your physician may recommend one or more treatments to help you, including:
- Fiber supplements, laxatives, or prescription medications for constipation
- Anti-diarrheal medications if needed
- Prescription antispasmodic drugs for abdominal cramping and pain
- Low dose antidepressants for pain and other IBS symptoms
- Probiotics (friendly bacteria) to help normalize the digestive system
- Peppermint oil capsules, which may help some people with indigestion and cramps
Talk with your physician before you start taking any medications. He or she should be aware of any over-the-counter and prescription medications you take, as well as any supplements. Together, you and your physician can develop a plan to manage your symptoms that may include a combination of lifestyle changes and medications.
IBS is a chronic condition, and there is no cure. The symptoms of IBS can also change over time. Keep in regular contact with your physician and see him or her yearly to discuss your symptoms and change your treatment plan if needed.
CarePoint Health Primary Care
Your primary care physician can help you manage your healthcare, and answer any questions you have about your health. Your PCP will help you navigate your well visits and specialist care throughout your life, and will be your health care advocate. To find a skilled primary care physician at CarePoint Health, please contact us.
Content on our website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911. Always consult your physician before making any changes to your medical treatment.