When people hear the medical term, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), they often think of constipation or having a hard time removing their bowels.
Constipation, however, is just one of many symptoms associated with IBS. Patients with IBS can also experience abdominal pain, flatulence (bloating), muscle pain, mucus in the stools, indigestion, diarrhea, or an increased frequency of urination.
Many people also don’t know that IBS is common. So common that an estimated 25-45 million adults in the U.S. suffer from the symptoms, and only five to seven percent of adults have been diagnosed with the disease.
What is IBS, and what are its causes? How can IBS be treated? We will go over the answers to those questions in this article.
IBS is a disorder characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort, and altered bowel habits – e.g., chronic or recurrent diarrhea, constipation, or sometimes both.
IBS is unpredictable as symptoms can vary, often at different times. Also, roughly two out of three sufferers are female, and most people with IBS are under the age of 50. However, older adults can still be affected.
The impact IBS can have on patients can range anywhere from a mild inconvenience to severe debilitation, and it can control many aspects of the emotional, social, and professional well-being. Imagine the feeling associated with needing to be around a bathroom at all times – it’s a not so great feeling, is it?
Causes of IBS
IBS is not a single disease with a sole cause. There may be several underlying causes triggering IBS symptoms, which are usually specific to the individual.
It is also important to note that IBS is considered a diagnosis of exclusion. This means that while patients may have had extensive lab work, studies, or procedures performed, results may show up as being normal. When this occurs, doctors have a hard time identifying a diagnosable condition that explains a patients symptoms.
Conventional medicine focuses on managing the symptoms of IBS. This typically involves the use of potent acid-blocking medications, such as Prilosec, Nexium, or Prevacid. These medications are part of a class of heartburn drugs called proton pump inhibitors, which can cause an increased risk of long-term kidney damage or kidney disease.
Over the counter medications such as laxatives to relieve constipation, can also lead to severe long-term damage. Side effects of using these medicines include bloating, gassiness, and abdominal pain – which are other symptoms of IBS. Abusing these medications can lead to serious, or even life-threatening complications, which can include:
- Severe dehydration
- Electrolyte and mineral imbalances
- A dependence on laxatives
- Internal organ damage
- An increased risk of colon cancer
- Chronic constipation
Below are some of the common underlying causes of IBS:
Studies show a direct link between IBS and a leaky gut. But what is a leaky gut?
A leaky gut happens when the cells lining the intestinal wall have become damaged, allowing undigested food particles, microbes, toxins, and any other unneeded substances to “leak” in the body, or bloodstream. The immune system treats these substances as “foreign invaders” and releases an attack to remove these substances, which can lead to inflammation.
Food Allergens or Sensitivities
When patients eat foods they are allergic or have food sensitivities to, they often experience symptoms similar to IBS – gas, bloating, abdominal pain, changes in bowel movement.
Gluten, dairy, and soy are three of the most common foods people are allergic to. And shockingly, most people do not know they are allergic or have sensitivities to these foods until they get tested.
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
SIBO occurs when the bacteria in the gut gets out of balance and overgrows creating all sorts of havoc in the body. SIBO’s symptoms are similar to IBS, and in many cases, patients with IBS were also found to have SIBO.
Stress can aggravate IBS Symptoms. The brain and gut are connected to the central nervous system, and when people experience stress, the body’s stress response can cause the colon to contract too much or too little.
While often not diagnosed, parasites can be a common cause of IBS. If a parasite is causing IBS, then it is best to seek the assistance of a functional medicine doctor in your area who can assess the case and prescribe the proper treatment to remove this harmful agent causing infection.
It is also important to note that not all parasites are bad. A functional medicine doctor will be able to determine if a parasite is harmful or helpful for the body.
IBS is a common disorder that needs to be treated appropriately. Managing the symptoms with medication can only make things worse. Identifying the root cause(s) that is triggering IBS symptoms with a functional medicine doctor is the way to go as he or she will be able to identify and prescribe a proper treatment plan to restore a healthier function of the body.
Meet Dr. Neil Spiegel
For over 20 years in osteopathic medicine, Dr. Spiegel has applied traditional and alternative methods to diagnose and treat his patients. He has a special interest in caring for patients with acute and chronic musculoskeletal and neurologic pain syndromes. Dr. Spiegel has received numerous professional and volunteerism honors including Top Doctor Survey Awards and the State of Maryland Volunteer Service Award. He also serves on the Board of Directors of a free clinic serving the uninsured in Montgomery County, Maryland.