Irritable bowel syndrome, often referred to as IBS or spastic colon, affects up to 20% of the world’s population and is a chronic condition that has no cure. While this sometimes devastating ailment cannot be eradicated, the symptoms can most often be controlled through a combination of medication, lifestyle changes, dietary changes and stress management. Each person with IBS will experience varying symptoms and various sensitivities or triggers, as well as varying success with different treatments. Understanding your particular IBS symptoms and determining the combination of tips and treatments that alleviate these symptoms most effectively is an important part of managing irritable bowel syndrome and regaining control of your life.
The most common symptoms of IBS are cramping, bloating, lower abdominal pain, passing mucus, feeling as though evacuation is not complete after passing a stool, feelings of urgency regarding evacuation, and diarrhea or constipation. Irritable bowel syndrome affects the function of your colon, including muscle contractions in the large and small intestines. The reason that both diarrhea and constipation are possible symptoms is because irritable bowel syndrome can either cause these contractions to increase and move waste through the system too quickly, or can cause these contractions to decrease and limit motility.
Irritable bowel syndrome shares symptoms with several other possible ailments, some of which are diseases that may be cause for increased concern. Because of this, it is important to work with your healthcare provider to rule out other possible causes before determining that your symptoms are caused by irritable bowel syndrome. Diseases and conditions that should be ruled out include food allergies, inflammatory bowel diseases (such as Crohn’s disease), gallstones, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, colon cancer, celiac disease, intestinal parasites, infections, bowel obstructions and diverticulosis or diverticulitis. It is particularly important to test for other illnesses if you are experiencing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome along with additional symptoms, such as fever, blood in stools or weight loss, which are not typically associated with irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, but are indicative of other diseases and ailments.
While standard tests can be used to rule out other conditions and diseases, there is no available test for determining a diagnosis or irritable bowel syndrome; therefore, the standard of care for diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome centers on using the 2006 Rome III Criteria for diagnosis. These diagnostic criteria were initially laid out by a group of experts at a previous 1999 meeting, which resulted in the Rome II Criteria, and only minimal changes were made when developing Rome III; therefore, some IBS patients may hear the diagnostic criteria still be referred to as the Rome II Criteria. The criteria state that a patient must have experienced at least 12 consecutive or non-consecutive weeks of abdominal discomfort or pain in the last 12 months, coupled with two of the following three symptoms: relief with defecation, onset associated with a change in the frequency of stool, or onset associated with a change in the form of stool. Other symptoms that support a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome under the Rome III Criteria include abnormal stool, abnormal frequency of stool, abnormal stool passage, passage of mucus and abdominal bloating.
It is important to note that patients should not try to self-diagnose and should work with a healthcare provider to determine whether or not their symptoms are caused by irritable bowel syndrome. This is an important first step in assisting you in managing your health, and it is essential that other ailments with similar symptoms are ruled out before embarking on the journey of finding what works best for you in terms of managing irritable bowel syndrome.