Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Do you frequently get stomach cramps or diarrhea? Do the symptoms seem to come and go randomly and aren't something you can pin down to a specific food, drink, medication, or menstrual cycles? You could be one of the estimated 20% of Americans who have Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a functional disorder, that is to say, the bowels move too quickly or sometimes too slowly. There are theories that stress, food poisoning, parasites, viruses, or bacteria can cause the onset of IBS, but are not factors in its continuance. Women are twice as likely to develop IBS as men.


This is Giardia. Doesn't he look friendly.

Wouldn't you like to give him a home in your gut?

Some of the common symptoms of IBS are:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Sudden changes in bowel habits
  • Urgency of bowel movements
  • A feeling of incomplete evacuation (tenesmus)
  • Bloating or abdominal distention

There has been no definite cause identified. Nor are there any tests that can determine if you have IBS. A diagnosis of IBS is made based upon the patients symptoms and ruling out other possible causes. IBS is not a "dangerous" condition. It doesn't result in cancer, blood in the stool, or an increased risk for other gastrointestinal diseases. This isn't to say that IBS is not life altering. Many people with IBS plan out their day according to how close restrooms are while others avoid public or social gatherings because they never know when IBS will strike. This can hinder someones ability to advance their careers or even maintain personal relationships.

Many other conditions/diseases share the same symptoms as IBS. Unlike IBS, some of these conditions can be life threatening. If you have any of the symptoms above, you should have them checked by a medical professional.

Some Other conditions that cause IBS like symptoms are:

Colon Cancer

Obviously, this is the scariest of all intestinal problems. The good news is that colon cancer is slow growing and usually easily treated if caught in its early stages. The bad news is that patients may not have any symptoms until the cancer is further developed. If you're over 50, you really should have a colonoscopy done. They are covered under medicare and are covered my "most" insurances under the new health care laws.  NY Times explanation of coverage . If you're over 50 or have a close family member (mother, father, sister, brother) that had colon cancer, then you too should be screened regardless of your age.

colonoscopy pill

Getting your colonoscopy can be as easy as swallowing a pill.

This new technology sends video wirelessly to your doctors computer.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Crohn's Disease, & Celiac. 

These are all caused by an autoimmune response and usually respond to treatment with steroids like prednisone.

Lactose Intolerance 

Lactose Intolerance is not dangerous (uncomfortable and smelly; yes). Many adults lack the enzyme "lactase" necessary to absorb lactose. Lactose Intolerance is most common in people of Asian, African, Native American, or Mediterranean ancestry. Approximately 30 million American adults have some amount of lactose intolerance by age 20.

Gluten Intolerance 

Gluten is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related species, including barley and rye. It gives elasticity to dough helping it to rise and to keep its shape. Scientists speculate that some form of gluten sensitivity affects roughly 10% of the general population. Until recently, the terms gluten sensitivity and Celiac Disease were used interchangeably in literature. However, emerging research is beginning to identify the differences that exist between Celiac Disease and gluten sensitivity. Gluten intolerance is not an allergic response nor is it an autoimmune disorder like Celiac.


Diverticulitis is an active infection in the colon of people who have Diverticulosis (pockets that form in the colon). Diverticulosis (the pockets) can be caused by diets low in fiber, chronic constipation, or genetic connective tissue disorders. When these pockets fill with... ummm..."debris", they can become infected, swell, or perforate (Diverticulitis). Left untreated, Diverticulitis (the infection) can be fatal. To complicate things further, people with Diverticulosis (the pockets) may also have IBS.


Cholycystitis (gallbladder disease) 

While not life threatening, Cholycystitis can dramatically affect some patients health. Aside from the common gastrointestinal symptoms they experience, patients may feel lethargic and in ill health.


All of the above can be identified and treatment plans are well established. Until a clear cause can be identified, there is no foreseeable cure for IBS. The treatment for those that suffer from IBS is to control the symptoms.

Some things that may help those that suffer with IBS include:

Dietary Adjustments. 

There may (or may not) be foods that contribute to IBS symptoms. Unfortunately there is no firm list of what to eat and what not to eat. Each person responds differently and the process is one of trial and error. However caffeine may increase bowel activity and contribute to diarrhea and cramping.


Exercise can help. Its unknown exactly how exercise effects IBS. Some theories are that neuro-transmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine are released during exercise. These are known to have some affect on appetite and the digestive system. The fact that exercise is a stress reliever may also play a role in calming IBS symptoms.

Stress Management 

Stress management may also help. At one time or another we've all experienced the effect of emotions on our stomach and intestines. I remember a Christmas when I was very young. I was sure Santa Clause was on the roof (an ice sickle broke off the house). I got so exited I began vomiting. I don't know if that was the best or worst Christmas ever. There is no one size fits all prescription for stress management. You could try meditation, hobbies, sports, hiking, reading or a combination of things.

Imodium (loperamide) 

Medication can slow the bowel down and help with diarrhea and cramping. However over use of the medication can slow the bowel too much and may cause constipation, bloating and possibly impaction (a serious, life-threatening condition).

Medication Studies!

Participate in a clinical research study evaluating a new medication that not only slows the bowel down but prevents itself from being constipating. (Hmm, I wonder who you could call about that?