April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month, and so in honor, we have talked with Dr. Stanley Polit, a Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine physician at Little Company of Mary Hospital. IBS affects up to 55 million people across the US, so those who are experiencing IBS are not alone. Learn more about this common condition.
What is IBS?
Dr. Polit says IBS is not a disease, but rather “a constellation of symptoms.” Patients with IBS can experience diarrhea, constipation (and may alternate between the two), as well as abdominal bloating. These symptoms are caused by a dysfunction in the contraction of the intestinal tract.
These symptoms may be chronic, but may also resolve spontaneously in a person’s system. It is believed that stressful situations can exacerbate the symptoms, since there is a connection between the central nervous system and the GI tract.
IBS is more common in females and younger patients. “When an older patient has symptoms, the physician is more likely to suspect and perform additional testing to exclude other disease processes,” says Dr. Polit. In younger women, IBS can be exacerbated by changing hormones within the menstrual cycle.
So when should you go to the doctor if you suspect you might have IBS?
“If symptoms are persistent or bothersome to a patient, the patient should come in for an evaluation,” says Dr. Polit. “An evaluation can confirm the diagnosis and rule out other problems. Sometimes a patient might choose to go to the doctor just for reassurance that nothing else is seriously present.”
What will a doctor do during a check-up if IBS is suspected?
The physician will often be able to diagnose IBS based on clinical grounds, but may perform additional tests to rule out other diseases. “There is no specific test to confirm IBS. There is no blood test, X-Ray, or endoscopic test which will make the diagnosis,” says Dr. Polit. “A physician who suspects other disease processes may perform additional testing.”
At a typical appointment for gastrointestinal (GI) problems, the doctor will take a history, perform a physical exam, and depending on the clinical situation will decide on the appropriate tests. Then the physician will come up with a treatment plan.
How is IBS treated?
“A treatment plan is tailored to the individual patient dependent upon which symptoms are present,” says Dr. Polit.
Possible treatments include:
- A trial of a lactose free diet in case of lactose intolerance
- Fiber supplements
- Antispasmodic drugs to help treat diarrhea and cramping
- A fiber supplement for constipation
- Screening for wheat allergies or Celiac disease
- Therapy or other stress reduction techniques if the doctor suspects stress is the cause.
“As we make decisions regarding tests and treatments, we make sure the patient understands why we order specific tests and what to expect from the therapies,” says Dr. Polit.
Learn more about Dr. Polit, and contact his office if you’d like an appointment.