First, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is not IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease). To learn the different between these two different diseases with similar acronyms you can read my April 13, 2009 Sharepost here.
This blog will discuss what IBS - Irritable Bowel Syndrome - is.
In clinical terms, IBS is a functional bowel disorder of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The GI tract includes your mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, gallbladder, and anus. So, the problems associated with IBS could be caused by any or all of the parts of the GI tract.
Common symptoms associated with IBS include: diarrhea (D), constipation (C), or alternating between diarrhea and constipation; abdominal pain; bloating or distention of the abdomen; gas; and, whitish mucus in stool. Symptoms that are not indicative of IBS include abdominal pain that interferes with sleep, blood in stool, weight loss, fever, or diarrhea that wakes you from sleep.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that IBS is diagnosed when all other possible diseases of the GI tract - like IBD, diverticulitis, and gall bladder disease - have been ruled out. Many of the symptoms that I have listed as being common to people with IBS can also be symptoms of other GI disorders and it isn't until all other potential diseases are ruled out that an IBS diagnosis is made. While frustrating for the patient, a proper IBS diagnosis can take months or years.
There are a number of possible tests that can be done to determine the cause of GI problems in patients. By no means are all of the tests I will list necessary for all patients who present with the aforementioned symptoms. Your doctor will determine the best course of testing for you based on your medical history, family history, symptom profile, and previous test results.
Today, many physicians will begin with a comprehensive blood test that might check for Celiac disease or other food allergies. Stool tests may also be ordered to check for parasites, the C-difficile toxin, and inflammation or malabsorption issues. Other tests that may be deemed necessary include upper and/or lower GI x-rays; abdominal ultrasound, CT, or MRI scans; and possibly a colonoscopy, endoscopy, or sigmoidoscopy. These last three tests allow the doctor to not only see your small and large intestines, but also to take small tissue samples called biopsies which can be viewed under a microscope to check for inflammation or other issues not seen with the naked eye.
The hardest part of being diagnosed with IBS is that there is no one definitive treatment or cure for IBS. What may work to help one patient ease his or her symptoms may have little to no effect for another IBS patient. Learning to live with and control IBS takes patience and time and concerted effort on the part of the patient. There is no magical pill or cure your doctor can give you. But, some IBS patients find their symptoms can be eased by using medications such as antispasmodics, antidiarrheals, fiber supplements, probiotics, and even certain antidepressants. Other IBS patients get the most help from changing their diet and eliminating foods that are pre-made or processed and increasing whole foods. Other changes that have proven to be beneficial for many people learning to live with IBS is eliminating food groups such as gluten, dairy, soy, or nuts from their diet - even though you may not have an actual allergy to these foods, an intolerance to a certain food can cause IBS-like symptoms. Also helpful to many IBS patients is learning stress reduction techniques like meditation, yoga, rhythmic breathing, and light exercise. While stress is not the cause of IBS it has been found to make symptoms worse.