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Roopa Vemulapalli, M.D. Answers Questions On Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Roopa Vemulapalli, M.D. Answers Questions On: Irritable Bowel Syndrome

How is irritable bowel syndrome different from inflammatory bowel disease?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are different intestinal disorders that have similar symptoms.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a group of symptoms that can include abdominal discomfort, bloating, gas, and altered bowel habits. IBS does not cause visible ulcers and inflammation is found at the cellular level. It is not a risk factor for colon cancer and usually does not require patients to be hospitalized. Between 10 to 20 percent of the U.S. population suffers from IBS.

Inflammatory bowel disease – damaging inflammation of the intestinal tract – causes symptoms that may include chronic abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, joint pain, and unexplained weight loss. IBD encompasses Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and is a risk factor for colon cancer.

How is irritable bowel syndrome treated?

Treating irritable bowel syndrome requires a comprehensive approach with a focus on improving all the aspects of the disease. It is important for the gastroenterologist to have a detailed patient history that includes his or her diet and medication use, including over-the-counter and herbal medications.

A diet low in fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) – types of carbohydrates – helps decrease bloating and has been shown to significantly improve abdominal pain and distension. Medications such as hyoscyamine, desipramine, and amitryptiline also can help with pain, while probiotics and antibiotics can decrease abdominal distension and bloating. Stool softeners and laxatives play a vital role in treating constipation.

Physician reassurance and a strong doctor-patient relationship is helpful to people with IBS, as well.

What are some common misconceptions about irritable bowel syndrome?

There’s a lot of inaccurate information out there about irritable bowel syndrome.

The most common misconception may be that it’s not a “real” disorder – that it’s all in people’s heads, is caused by stress, or is diagnosed only when other conditions aren’t. The fact is, IBS is a legitimate physical disorder that is diagnosed based upon the gastrointestinal symptoms experienced by those who suffer from it.

Many people also believe that irritable bowel syndrome is a disease seen exclusively in females. While women are somewhat more likely to have IBS, a lot of men suffer from it, as well.

In addition, some people think that irritable bowel syndrome is caused by lactose or gluten intolerance or it increases one’s risk of colon cancer. Lactose and gluten intolerance are not related to IBS, and people who have the condition are at no greater risk for developing colon cancer than those who don’t.