It’s not uncommon to occasionally feel some sort of indigestion—a full feeling in the stomach that might be accompanied by pain and discomfort. It may be a result of eating high-fat food like fried chicken or a cheeseburger, or something spicy. It might also happen if you’ve eaten tor quickly or you’re stressed out. The pain will likely subside after a few hours.
However, if you feel this discomfort or pain regularly it might be more than just routine indigestion.
“Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a collection of symptoms like cramping and gas, constipation, or diarrhea that occur frequently over time,” said Geisinger gastroenterologist Yakub Khan, M.D. “It affects between 10 and 20 percent of people, the majority of which are women.”
Some additional symptoms include feeling like you need to go to the bathroom often, or that you haven’t finished a bowel movement. These symptoms may range in severity from person to person and from time to time; symptoms may even disappear for a time.
Doctors aren’t sure exactly what causes IBS, but they have several theories. One is that there’s miscommunication between the brain and the intestines. This may cause contractions that move food through the body to be stronger or take place for a longer period of time, which causes gas, diarrhea and bloating. Or, the contractions might not be strong enough, which slows the digestion process and causes constipation.
Another theory is that hormones may play a role; the majority of people suffering from IBS are women, and women may experience IBS flare-ups during menstruation.
In addition, the triggers that bring on IBS may vary from person to person and include some of a wide range of foods, from chocolate and spicy foods to broccoli and alcohol, hormones, stress and other conditions like gastroenteritis or too much bacteria in the intestine.
“Unfortunately, there is no one test that can help diagnose IBS,” said Dr. Khan. “Instead, your doctor may review your symptoms to see if they’ve occurred at least three times each month for the past six months, as well as your medical and family history.”
Your doctor may also rule out other possible medical conditions like food allergies, an infection, medications that may cause similar side effects, a problem where the body’s enzymes don’t properly break down food, or an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease or colitis.
“Your doctor will also ask you if you’ve noticed any rectal bleeding, weight loss, fever, vomiting, anemia or diarrhea and abdominal pain that wakes you up in the middle of the night,” said Dr. Khan. These symptoms may be signs of a more serious health condition.
If your doctor suspects you have IBS, he or she might ask you to keep a food journal to try to determine what triggers your flare-ups. If you can determine which foods trigger symptoms, your doctor may recommend avoiding them. Some patients with IBS have also reported that symptoms clear up after making other diet changes like eliminating gluten or FODMAPs, which are certain types of carbohydrates found in some grains, vegetables, fruits and dairy products.
If lifestyle changes don’t provide relief, your doctor may recommend using over-the-counter fiber supplements or anti-diarrheal medications. Your doctor may also prescribe medication made specifically for IBS relief.
“There is no specific cure for IBS, it’s more about finding a solution that provides relief to the patient,” said Dr. Khan.
Yakub Khan, M.D., is a gastroenterologist and sees patients at Geisinger Mt. Pleasant, Scranton. To make an appointment with Dr. Khan or another Geisinger gastroenterologist, please call 570-342-8500 or visit Geisinger.org.