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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

A common malady, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causes pain and digestive disruption. It has received increasing recognition in recent years, in part due to its prevalence and its broad undertreatment. The discomfort and GI dysfunction that it causes occur because of the dis-coordination of the muscular movements of the intestines, especially the large bowel. The cause is not known, but stress, family history, gender (occurs more commonly in women) as well as diet and other lifestyle factors play a role.

With its high incidence, IBS is a condition that Virtua GI service stands ready to care for with practiced expertise. The goal is to find the steps that work best to minimize the condition for each patient.

The bowels use gentle rhythmic motion to move food and waste through the digestive tract. When this motion becomes erratic and irregular, spastic, or two rapid or two slow, digestion gets compromised and the individual may experience:

  • diarrhea;
  • constipation;
  • gas;
  • bloating;
  • irregularity;
  • mucus in the stool;
  • and cramps.

IBS can also cause urgency of elimination, especially during physical activity.

IBS affects primarily the colon or large intestine, and is sometimes referred to as spastic colon. For this reason, pain concentrates in the lower abdomen and the condition disrupts bowel function.

Examing Symptoms, Ruling Out Other Causes, Addressing the Syndrome from Several Angles

Virtua GI experts diagnose IBS almost exclusively through taking a medical and family history, through evaluating symptoms, and through performing a physical exam. Other conditions can cause the same symptoms, but IBS is a chronic, usually lifelong syndrome, though its symptoms may be highly intermittent, waxing and waning from one week, month or year to the next. For some patients, symptoms are triggered or relieved by eating or having a bowel movement. Fortunately, IBS is benign in the sense that it does not cause or increase the risk of inflammation, cancer or other more potentially serious conditions within the intestines.

No definitive tests exist for IBS, only tests to rule out other causes of symptoms. But once other possible explanations have been considered and IBS identified as the cause, the Virtua team can help patients by recommending a variety of noninvasive steps that often serve to reduce the manifestations of the disease. These include:

  • exercise. IBS has a complex neurologic basis, and for this reason exercise helps to relax and normalize GI function for some patients.
  • dietary changes. This may involve keeping a dietary log that can help to identify the foods more likely to cause distress from IBS; for example, some patients find that foods that are high in fat exacerbate the condition.
  • medications. Neuromuscular antispasmodics can serve to even out and relax intestinal contractions. Antidepressant medications in low doses can also calm the activity of neurons that control the intestines.
  • stress reduction. Changing the types and amount of stresses to which individuals expose themselves can have an impact on IBS severity, as can education and adaptation in coping with stress. Techniques in relaxation and stress reduction, including yoga, massage or meditation, prove helpful for some patients.
  • other alternative treatments. Some patients find success with biofeedback, acupuncture, herbs, hypnosis or probiotics (to counter a possible cause in some patients of intestinal bacteria overgrowth).
Normalizing GI Stimulation

Medications for many patients help relieve some or all of the symptoms of the condition, especially when used in conjunction with lifestyle adjustments. The digestive tract contains more nerve endings than any other single area of the body, other than the central nervous system. It is intimately affected by brain signals, including sometimes-excessive ones related to mood and anxiety.

Today, IBS is widely thought of as the most common reason patients are referred to a gastroenterologist. The syndrome can be severe enough to compromise or disable a person’s ability to sustain work, travel or social events, or certain physical activities. For many patients, IBS may wholly or partly resolve, temporarily or permanently, with time. For many other patients, though, contending with IBS and finding ways to limit its impact is a permanent effort.

Virtua gastroenterologists are extensively experienced with diagnosing and caring for IBS. They can counsel patients and help them manage, reduce and sometimes resolve their symptoms.

1-888-847-8823 (568-7337)

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