I have abdominal pain and cramping, could I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

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Courtesy of DHR Health

Carlos J. Cardenas MD at DHR Health Gastroenterology Institute

Irritable Bowel Syndrome also known as IBS is a functional disorder of the gastrointestinal tract; your stomach, small intestine, and large intestine.  Symptoms are commonly long-standing abdominal pain and discomfort and altered bowel habits which may be characterized by either diarrhea, constipation, or alternating between both.  IBS is relatively common and affects about 11% of the population worldwide.  It tends to occur more often in younger age groups and in women.

Abdominal pain in IBS is usually described as a cramping sensation and may vary in severity and frequency.  Often times the pain is related to having a bowel movement.  In some patients these symptoms are relieved with having a bowel movement and in others, having a bowel movement may worsen the pain.  In addition to cramping, the symptoms of IBS include diarrhea, constipation or alternating diarrhea and constipation, or normal bowel habits alternating with diarrhea and or constipation.  Commonly these symptoms tend to occur in the waking hours and are often brought on after a meal.

Evaluation for IBS consists of seeing your physician for a physical examination, laboratory evaluation and age-appropriate colorectal cancer screening (age greater than or equal to 45).  Evaluation by your physician is necessary to rule out the possibility of other conditions that are not IBS. Alarming symptoms that suggest another condition or disease include the following:  age of onset greater than 50 years of age, rectal bleeding or black stools, diarrhea that occurs at night, ongoing/increasing abdominal pain, and laboratory abnormalities such as anemia, family history of either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease or family history of colorectal cancer.  Patients who meet criteria and have no alarming symptoms usually need no further testing.

What can I do to feel better?  A) You can start a diary to keep a daily track of the foods and activities that may have increased your symptoms and make this available to your physician.  B) You can stop eating foods that make things worse and let your doctor know what these are.  C) In general, you can give up milk, ice cream, and other foods that have milk or lactose in them as these often contribute to bloating and gas and could make your symptoms worse.  D) Eat more fiber, such as cereals, fruits, and vegetables. E) Exercise, increasing physical activity truly helps IBS.

How is IBS treated? There are many medications that can be used to treat the condition and control its symptoms.  There is not a treatment today that “cures” the condition.  Counseling can also help because we know that anxiety can often contribute to symptoms.  Medications are available to ease the problems with diarrhea and/or constipation associated with IBS.  Sometimes use of antidepressants can be very helpful in treating the symptoms of IBS and using anti-spasmodics can also be very helpful.  In some patients, the use of antibiotics may help with bloating and diarrhea.

In general, IBS is a lifelong condition that can be managed in partnership with your physician.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms please speak to your physician or call the DHR Health Gastroenterology Institute at (956) 362-3636.  We are available to answer any questions you may have and discuss the steps you can take to help ease your symptoms.