Managing diet and stress can help
If you eat something that doesn’t agree with you, your stomach will let you know. Bad food or a stomach bug can lead to stomachache, vomiting and diarrhea. Normally, these symptoms pass as your body gets rid of the offender.
But for some people, abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation are more common than the occasional bad meal. These symptoms can last for days at a time and happen periodically throughout their lifetime including during high-stress situations.
If this sounds like you, you may have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
“IBS is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders in the world,” said Dr. Michael Komar, director of gastroenterology at Geisinger. “Most patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have chronic symptoms that vary in severity over time.”
Diarrhea, constipation or both
IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder that may cause abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation or even alternating episodes of diarrhea and constipation. It’s most common in people under the age of 50.
“The symptoms of IBS vary from person to person, and so do the triggers,” said Dr. Komar. “For many people with IBS, high levels of stress or certain foods can trigger symptoms. Those symptoms also tend to go away after going to the bathroom.”
Because the symptoms of IBS are unpredictable and can happen at any time, IBS can affect your schedule and sense of wellbeing. It can cause you to miss social outings, force you to call out of work and even make you hesitant to go out if your symptoms flare up.
Your doctor can prescribe medications to reduce the frequency of IBS symptoms and help you manage flare-ups.
Common triggers for IBS:
- Refined grains, processed foods, dairy, fatty and fried foods, coffee, soda and alcohol can all trigger IBS symptoms.
Other things that can trigger IBS symptoms are:
- High levels of emotional or physical stress
- Changes in sleep pattern
- Hormonal changes and menstruation
Why it’s so important to get help
If you frequently experience bouts of abdominal pain, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, you should see your doctor. IBS shares symptoms with other health conditions, such as lactose intolerance, celiac disease, microscopic colitis, or inflammatory bowel disease. Pelvic floor dysfunction in women may also trigger constipation.
“In patients who meet diagnostic criteria for IBS and have no alarm features, we do not routinely perform any additional testing beyond the initial evaluation,” Dr. Komar said. “We’ll work with you to help mitigate and manage your symptoms.”
Anyone experiencing symptoms after age 50, have rectal bleeding, unexplained weight loss or family history of colorectal cancer should seek medical attention to exclude more serious conditions.
Michael Komar, MD, is a gastroenterologist at Geisinger. To schedule an appointment, call 800-275-6401.