April: IBS Awareness Month
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive disorder in the US and other parts of the world. It does not cause cancer or increase your risk for getting cancer, so why am I writing an article about it in a cancer blog? Up to 20% of the American population has IBS which means many people with cancer and who are reading this blog also have IBS.
Here are some facts about IBS:
- IBS accounts for 20-40% of gastroenterology (digestive disease) office visits.
- IBS is a syndrome, a group of symptoms, causing intestinal distress. It is classified as a functional disorder which means it affects the movement of the intestines but does not cause inflammation or damage. Even though there are no physical changes to the intestines, IBS symptoms can sometimes be severe and can negatively impact a person’s quality of life.
- IBS is more common in women, usually diagnosed under the age of 45 and can run in families.
- There are three types of IBS: IBS with constipation (IBS-C), IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D) and IBS mixed with alternating constipation and diarrhea (IBS-M). Symptoms that usually accompany the change in bowel habits are abdominal pain and cramping, bloating and gas. There are also associated symptoms like heartburn, nausea, headache, back pain and painful periods. Symptoms that do not indicate IBS and could be a sign of a more serious problem include weight loss, blood in the stool and fever.
- The exact cause of IBS is not known, but it is believed that the gut-brain connection is affected. It is not caused by stress or emotional problems, as once thought, but stress and emotions can trigger or worsen symptoms and may predispose a person to getting IBS. There is also an increased risk of developing IBS after gastroenteritis, a stomach infection.
- IBS is not the same as IBD, inflammatory bowel disease, which does cause inflammation and damage to the lining of the digestive tract and is a risk factor for colorectal cancer.
- IBS is diagnosed based on the type and duration of symptoms and by ruling out other conditions. A medical professional has to make the diagnosis and many tests are often performed. IBS is sometimes misdiagnosed because the symptoms are similar to many other diseases and disorders. On the flip side, several conditions, such as ovarian cancer and carcinoid tumors, can be misdiagnosed as IBS.
- If you already have IBS, you could experience more intense digestive symptoms during or after chemotherapy and other treatments you may receive for your cancer.
- There is no cure for IBS. The symptoms are managed through diet, by eliminating certain foods that cause symptoms; restoring gut bacteria by adding probiotics; relaxation techniques such as massage, yoga and meditation; and/or medication to control the symptoms. Everyone is different and not one method works effectively for all. It is helpful to keep a symptom log to see if you can determine the triggers so they can be eliminated or modified.