Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a digestive disorder that affects bowel movements. Its hallmark symptom is abdominal pain, though it can come with a host of other complaints. There are no specific diagnostic tests to confirm a diagnosis of IBS, which is why it is imperative to track your symptoms and share this information with your doctor.
More than ten percent of the world’s population suffers from IBS, most commonly young to middle-aged women, although anyone can have it. A person with IBS can suffer from an attack at any time, with no way to predict its occurrence.
IBS is usually diagnosed when a patient experiences a group of symptoms together, which last several months or more. So if a patient tracks her symptoms and reports them to her doctor, the doctor can evaluate the patient for IBS, and offer treatment options.
Common IBS Symptoms
- Abdominal pain
- Gas or burping
- Bloated sensation in the stomach
- Changes in bowel movements, such as constipation and/or diarrhea
- Unusual appearance of the stool, such as changes in texture or color
- Feeling full easily, or not feeling hungry
- Heartburn or acid reflux
In order for a diagnosis of IBS to be made, the patient must exhibit this cluster of symptoms for at least several months, with at least three days of each month having symptoms present, and often more than that.
Less Common IBS Symptoms
There are other symptoms that may be seen with IBS, which aren’t required for diagnosis, but may often be experienced by some patients.
- Trouble sleeping
- Anxiety or depression
- Taste in the mouth that is unpleasant
- Sexual problems, including reduced libido
- Muscle aches, often in the lower back
- Heart palpitations
- Body image issues
- Urinary urgency or frequency
The symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be diverse from patient to patient, and the most common symptoms can be easily mistaken for symptoms of other diseases, especially the abdominal cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation.
For most patients, IBS is a chronic illness. However, there will most likely be times when the symptoms worsen, and times when they recede, or even seem to disappear entirely.
More Serious Symptoms to Watch For
Although over ten percent of the world population has IBS, less than 1 in five who have it will seek medical attention. However, it is important that patients see their doctor if they believe they may have IBS, as the symptoms of IBS may also be indicative of a more serious illness, such as colon cancer or inflammatory bowel disease.
Symptoms of IBS shared by other more serious conditions are:
- Abdominal pain that happens at night or worsens during the night
- Rectal bleeding
- Weight loss
Bringing symptoms to a doctor’s attention may enable him to help the patient get treatment, as well as rule out any more serious diseases. Getting early treatment can also help avoid potential complications from untreated IBS, such as chronic diarrhea.
If someone suspects they may have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, they should pay attention to any symptoms and keep a diary, logging the symptoms, the time and date when they occur, and any other details. By getting early treatment, patients may be able to avoid long term complications and get some relief of uncomfortable symptoms.