How Do You Know if You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Your gastrointestinal system has many components, each of which plays a specific role in processing your food and drink intake, which enables you to receive the nutrition your body needs and safely eliminate waste. The way this system works every day is remarkable, but it doesn’t always function without a hitch.

Irritable bowel syndrome, typically referred to as IBS, is a common gastrointestinal disorder that affects the intestines and causes discomfort for millions of Americans. It is the most commonly diagnosed gastrointestinal condition.  It’s characterized by chronic abdominal pain and alterations in bowel habits. The disorder is resultant of a number of different factors, there is no one specific cause. Focus has been on alterations in the motility of the GI system and visceral hypersensitivity, the “Brain-Gut Connection.” Indicating that the symptoms are caused primarily by impaired communication between the gut and the nervous system.

If you have IBS, you may be able to manage the symptoms through dietary and lifestyle changes. But it’s a good idea to seek an accurate diagnosis and treatment if your symptoms are severe or occur frequently because IBS symptoms are often similar to those caused by more serious health conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease or colon cancer.

Common IBS Symptoms

As its name implies, IBS causes symptoms related to bowel disruptions, occurring in both the small and large intestine. People with IBS may experience the following symptoms:

  • Chronic constipation or diarrhea, or even alternating instances of the feeling of both in a single day
  • Frequent abdominal pain, gas and bloating
  • A feeling of incomplete evacuation
  • Stool that appears to contain mucus

IBS Treatment

There’s no known cure for IBS, and most people who have this condition will experience symptoms from time to time throughout their lifetime. There are medicines that can be prescribed to help alleviate the symptoms of IBS, such as medicine to ease diarrhea or constipation, antispasmodics to help with pain, anti-depressants to modulate the brain-gut axis to alleviate discomfort, and antibiotics. There are also over the counter medications that may help alleviate symptoms as well.  It is important to discuss these options with your provider to determine the best treatment plan for you.

However, if you have IBS symptoms, changing what and how you eat can often help alleviate symptoms. It’s a good idea to eat slowly and avoid consuming too much at one sitting. You should also keep a record of what you eat and drink and make a note of any IBS symptoms you experience afterward. Everyone is different, so the foods that trigger IBS attacks for you might be different from the problem foods for someone else.

With that said, there are some foods and beverages that have been recognized as common IBS triggers. Here’s a list compiled by the American College of Gastroenterology:

  • So-called “gassy” foods, such as beans, cabbage, onions, Brussels sprouts and broccoli
  • Certain fruits, including bananas, apples, pears, peaches, apricots and plums
  • Chewing gum, which promotes swallowing of air
  • Food and drinks that contain sugar substitutes
  • Wheat and other foods containing gluten
  • Dairy products

Getting regular physical activity has shown to improve IBS symptoms. Even easy forms of movement like walking can help. We recommend that you try to get 30-60 minutes of exercise 3 to 5 days a week. It is also important to maintain a good sleep routine. People have also had significant relief of symptoms through the use of meditation and gut-related hypnotherapy.

It is important to remember that there is no standard treatment protocol that works for all IBS patients.

Can You Be Tested for IBS?

There’s no diagnostic test for IBS. But based on your symptoms, your medical practitioner may order tests to rule out other conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease. With other conditions ruled out, your medical provider is likely to base your diagnosis on your family and medical history, as well as symptoms that are related to abdominal pain and discomfort during defecation or changes in the appearance and consistency of your stools.

Some of the procedures and tests your medical provider may recommend to make sure you’re not experiencing a condition other than IBS include:

  • Colonoscopy
  • CT scan
  • Upper endoscopy
  • Bloodwork and stool studies

Is IBS Dangerous?

IBS is not a life-threatening condition. Once other more serious health conditions have been ruled out, a decision not to receive medical treatment for IBS won’t increase your risk for inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulitis, colon cancer or other gastrointestinal conditions. However, it’s important to point out that IBS can occur at the same time as other gastrointestinal conditions, so you’ll want to alert your healthcare provider if you develop new symptoms such as:

  • Blood in your stool
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Diarrhea that wakes you from sleep
  • Changes in the type of belly pain you experience

Your Go-To Source for IBS Treatment in the Tampa Bay Area

Florida Medical Clinic is a trusted provider of many gastroenterology services, including diagnosis and treatment of irritable bowel syndrome and testing to ensure that IBS-like symptoms are not signs of other more serious illnesses. We have many locations in the Tampa Bay area, including offices at North Tampa and Wiregrass. Our highly qualified gastroenterology team, including Stephanie Delvaux, APRN, is committed to providing individualized patient care that’s as convenient as possible. Call (813) 280-7100 or click here to request an appointment with Stephanie.

About Stephanie Delvaux, APRN

Born and raised in Kewaskum, Wisconsin, Stephanie received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. She then earned a master’s degree in nursing from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and relocated to the Tampa area in 2016. She is board-certified by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, and her special interests include inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease and nutrition. In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys cooking and traveling.

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