What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome affects about 10-20% of the U.S. population, a rate almost double that for high blood pressure. IBS is defined as a chronic functional bowel disorder characterized by predominantly diarrhea or constipation or alternating constipation and diarrhea, gas and bloating, cramping pains and occasional mucous in the stool but not blood. If there is blood in the stool a prompt evaluation by a gastroenterologist would be necessary. Intestinal infections, dairy foods, gluten grains such as wheat, corn and fructose from soft drinks and packaged foods frequently show up in medical studies as precipitating factors as well as stress. There may also be genetic factors. Frequent antibiotic usage can also predispose to IBS. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s, Ulcerative colitis or Celiac disease. People with Irritable Bowel Syndrome also may have symptoms of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue.
Testing for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
There are no blood tests for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It cannot be diagnosed by a colonoscopy. It is diagnosed predominantly by the history of symptoms. There are however specialized stool tests evaluating levels of good and bad bacteria, markers of intestinal inflammation and other important digestive markers of intestinal health that can help guide treatment.
Treatment for IBS
Since there is more than one cause for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, treatments need to be individualized. Dietary changes are very important. We give an extensive list of food substitutions and recipes. Removing bad bacteria, yeast or parasites is next. Then replacing digestive enzymes and improving stomach acidification is done if necessary. Reinoculating with beneficial bacteria is almost always needed. Finally repairing the intestinal tissue for long term health is important. Without these basic functional medicine steps, it is very unlikely that any prescription medicine advertized as a treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome will be of benefit.