Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Something Else?

Last Editorial Review: 10/31/2005

Digestive problems can be confusing. Is it irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease? What about ulcerative colitis or Crohn's? Or a plain old ulcer or indigestion? One thing's for sure: Plenty of people have trouble with their digestive system. IBS is one of the most common disorders.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • You have frequent abdominal pain.
  • Your stomach feels bloated.
  • Having a bowel movement relieves the ache or discomfort.
  • How often you have a bowel movement has changed.
  • The stool comes out lumpy and hard, or loose and watery.
  • Having a bowel movement feels uncontrollably urgent, difficult to pass or unfinished.
  • You notice mucus in the stool.

These are the most common symptoms of IBS, though everyone's case is different- and may not indicate IBS at all, but some other digestive condition. Tell your doctor about any symptoms you have. If you do have IBS, you can find relief with lifestyle changes and medications.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • Is IBS linked to any disease, such as colon cancer ?
  • How do I know what triggers my symptoms?
  • How does stress contribute to my condition? What can I do about it?
  • What dietary and fitness changes should I consider?
  • Are there medications I can take?

Did You Know?

  • IBS is not a disease, says the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). It's a functional disorder, which means that the bowel doesn't work as it should.
  • IBS can be painful. But it does not damage the bowel or cause any other conditions.
  • Stress can trigger the symptoms of IBS. In fact, the bowel can overreact to all sorts of things, including food, exercise and hormones.
  • A barium enema is an x-ray of the bowel using a liquid called barium to make the bowel show up better. This test is also called a lower GI (gastrointestinal) series.
  • An endoscopy is a test to look at the inside of the bowel.

Know Your Numbers

  • One in five Americans has IBS, making it one of the most common disorders diagnosed.
  • About 80% of those with IBS are women.
  • You can get IBS at any age, but people in their teens though their 40s have the most cases. About 15% to 20% of people in that age range have IBS.

For more, please read the Irritable Bowel Syndrome article.

WebMD the Magazine - September/October 2005
© 2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


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