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Five Fast Facts About Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects millions of people, and is the second leading cause of work absenteeism in the U.S. Unfortunately, up to 40% of adults who meet the criteria of this disorder have never received a formal diagnosis.  Here’s what you need to know about IBS:

1) IBS Is a Functional Disorder of the Gastrointestinal (GI) Tract.

GI disorders are split into two main categories: organic or functional. Organic disorders are diseases where there are measurable or observable changes in the cells, tissues or organs that comprise the GI tract.

Functional disorders describe diseases where there’s no observable change in the underlying cells, but patients experience symptoms of a disruption of the normal function of their GI tract. Because there are no measurable or observable changes in the GI tract, but patients experience symptoms of dysfunction, IBS is considered a functional GI disorder.

2) There Are Specific Diagnostic Criteria for an IBS Diagnosis.

IBS is diagnosed based on patients’ symptoms. Patients who experience abdominal discomfort and a disruption in normal bowel habits (either diarrhea, constipation, or a combination of both) that last for at least six months meet the criteria of IBS.

3) There Are Several Risk Factors for IBS.

While IBS can affect anyone, there are certain risk factors that make it more likely for some people to experience this disorder. Women are twice as likely to have IBS as men. Patients who are ages 13-40 are also more likely to have IBS. Certain medications, previous history of GI infections (like travelers’ diarrhea), fibromyalgia, increased stress and emotional trauma are also risk factors for IBS.

4) IBS Can Be Triggered by Certain Foods and Beverages.

Most patients experience worsening IBS symptoms with large meals, as well as food that’s spicy, fatty or greasy, or food that contains dairy products. Drinks that contain caffeine, alcohol or carbonation can also exacerbate IBS symptoms. Patients with IBS can often improve their symptoms by avoiding these triggers.

5) IBS Can Be Treated with Various Medications.

There are several over-the-counter treatments that can improve the constipation and diarrhea that IBS often causes. There are also several prescription medications that can improve the function of the GI tract, improving or eliminating IBS symptoms.

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