What Is IBS? – Understanding symptoms, causes, and treatment

The Tummy Clinic | August 8th, 2022

Did you know irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects approximately 5% to 10% of people worldwide? That’s approximately 8 million people across the world! Yet, there are many misconceptions surrounding IBS, which is often seen as an ordinary stomach ache by those who don’t have it. However, for those with IBS, their entire life can start to revolve around it, often leaving them physically and mentally exhausted by their symptoms and their attempts to get answers and treatments that could help.

So, just what is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a benign syndrome characterized by symptoms including cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation, or both. In some people, IBS is a chronic condition, and as a result, it often needs long-term management.
Many people are able to control their symptoms by managing diet, lifestyle, and stress. Medication and counseling can provide help for certain people depending on their specific symptoms.

Symptoms

The symptoms of IBS vary in severity and duration from person to person. Common signs and symptoms include:

  1. Abdominal pain, cramping, or bloating related to passing a bowel movement
  2. Changes in the appearance of bowel movement
  3. Changes in number/ frequency of bowel movements
  4. Bloating, increased gas or mucus in the stool

It is important to recognize that IBS is a syndrome, meaning that these same symptoms may be present in a variety of other conditions as well. So having these symptoms alone doesn’t mean you definitely have IBS – your doctor will need to do a more thorough history to ensure that you don’t have any of the other conditions in which these symptoms are also present.

Causes

While the cause of IBS is unknown, there are several theories that have been proposed.

Risk factors

IBS is seen to be more common in people who are…
Below the age of 50

  • Female
  • Have a family history of IBS
  • Suffer from anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues
  • Have a history of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse

When to see a doctor

It’s important that your doctor diagnose your IBS. If you have worrisome symptoms like changes in your bowel habits, weight loss, or rectal bleeding, please speak to your doctor. Here at The Tummy Clinic, we take care of people that have an established diagnosis of IBS already. We do not provide the preliminary workup for these symptoms or make a new diagnosis of IBS.

Treating IBS

The treatment for IBS is aimed at symptom relief. The standard approach is over-the-counter remedies and lifestyle changes, including specific dietary trigger identification and elimination, cognitive behavioural therapy, specific exercises, and mindfulness-based stress reduction

IBS diet

For many people, dietary changes can go a long way in helping ease symptoms of IBS. Doctors and registered dieticians generally recommend the low FODMAP diet for IBS. FODMAP s are specific kinds of carbohydrate found in certain foods, which are seen to cause common digestive issues. As the symptoms of IBS vary from person to person, the approaches to dietary changes also differ.

IBS medication

Your doctor might suggest the use of a prescription depending on your specific symptoms. These medications can help reduce pain or target specific bowel patterns.

Frequently Asked Questions

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is characterized by a variety of symptoms, including cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation, or both. IBS is a chronic condition that you’ll need to manage long term. The cause is not well understood.

There is no definitive test to diagnose IBS. IBS is diagnosed after your doctor has reviewed your symptoms and occasionally ordered tests to rule out other conditions.

Visits at the Tummy Clinic are not covered by OHIP, however most extended healthcare plans cover many aspects of the care you will receive here, such as visits to Naturopathic Doctors, Dietitians, Social Workers or Psychotherapists. Check your benefits package or contact your insurance company for more information.