Patients experiencing a digestive disorder often find the topic difficult to discuss with others, even their own doctors. But the disorder is possible to manage so that your daily life is not disrupted.
One of the most common digestive disorders is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Defined as a disorder of bowel function, IBS is characterized by chronic abdominal pain and altered bowel habits, in the absence of any underlying structural cause for symptoms, explains Elizabeth Huebner, MD, a Washington University gastroenterologist at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital.
“This is an incredibly common condition, with an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of the population in the United States affected,” she says “IBS appears to be about twice as common in women than men and often occurs in young adulthood.”
Because of its impact on a person’s quality of life, it’s recommended that patients who believe they are experiencing IBS consult a specialist. “Reviewing symptoms with a gastroenterologist not only provides an opportunity to discuss management options but also allows the physician to check for concerning features that might suggest an alternate diagnosis,” Dr. Huebner says. “Such ‘alarm’ symptoms might include rectal bleeding, weight loss, certain laboratory abnormalities, or pain that awakens a patient from sleep or that progressively worsens. Symptoms that do not respond to typical treatments may also warrant further investigation.”
Criteria for IBS are met when a patient experiences recurrent abdominal pain for at least three days per month for the past three months. In addition, the pain is associated with at least two of the following:
Abdominal pain can vary in intensity, location and character but is often crampy. Sometimes the pain can be worse after eating or during periods of emotional stress. Affected individuals may describe constipation, diarrhea, bloating or variable bowel movements.
Though the exact cause of IBS is not known, several theories have been proposed. These include alterations in colonic motility, nerve hypersensitivity, imbalances in gut bacteria, carbohydrate malabsorption or perhaps food sensitivities. True food allergies are not common in patients experiencing IBS. Emotional stress can often exacerbate symptoms, and individuals with IBS tend to have increased levels of anxiety and depression. IBS can also flare after certain infections affecting the gastrointestinal tract.
The main goal of IBS treatment is symptom management and improving a patient’s quality of life. There are several options available, which include:
If you are living with IBS or experiencing recurrent abdominal pain, Dr. Huebner is accepting new patients. To schedule an appointment with Dr.Huebner or another specialist, call 314.542.WEST (9378) or toll-free 844.542.9378 or request a call for an appointment.