The Facts about IBS
IBS is more common than you might think
IBS is the most common disorder diagnosed by gastroenterologists in the United States and it is one of the most common conditions doctors treat. For IBS Awareness Month, let’s learn more about the disorder and it’s symptoms. The American College of Gastroenterology estimates that 10 to 15 percent of American adults have IBS, but only 5 to 7 percent of people have been diagnosed with the condition. This means many people with IBS do not receive the diagnosis – or the treatment – they need. Many more people do not realize that their symptoms indicate a medically recognized disorder.
People in the U.S. aren’t the only ones who have IBS, and it is not the only nation in which IBS is overlooked – it affects 7 to 10 percent of the global population. About 1 in 5 people in the United Kingdom have been diagnosed with the condition, upwards of 70 percent of the UK’s population may have symptoms of the syndrome but have not consulted with a doctor about them.
Raising awareness about irritable bowel syndrome and its symptoms may help more people get the diagnosis and the treatment they need.
Some people are more likely than others to develop IBS
Women are more likely to experience IBS than are men, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office on Women’s Health. People under the age of 50 are more likely to develop IBS than are older adults; in fact, IBS typically begins before the age of 35. Those with a family member with IBS have a higher risk for developing the condition.
Medical researchers are still working to understand the underlying causes of IBS
Honoring IBS Awareness Month and bringing attention to the disorder can help promote further research. Researchers have not yet identified the specific cause of IBS, so more research is necessary. The condition most likely develops from a combination of family history of IBS, stress, hypersensitive nerves in the gut, and the rate at which food passes through the digestive tract.
Symptoms may vary from person to person
IBS causes abdominal pain or discomfort and a change in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea, for 3 months or longer. Other symptoms may be different between individuals, but may include:
- Abdominal cramps or pain
- Constipation, with infrequent bowel movements in which stoo may be hard and dry
- Diarrhea or loose, watery stools
- Alternating between diarrhea and constipation
- Mucus in the stool
- Feeling like a bowel movement is incomplete
- Bloated or swollen stomach
- Discomfort in the upper stomach area, feeling uncomfortably full, or experiencing after eating a normal size meal
While there is no cure for IBS, it is possible to control it
Once researchers determine the underlying cause of IBS, they should be able to devise a treatment for it. Until then, though, patients can control their symptoms. Since stress can trigger IBS symptoms, for example, people with the condition can meditate, practice mindfulness, reduce work or school hours, go for walks, and take other measures known to reduce stress.
Get Involved – Here’s How
The more people that work together to raise awareness for IBS, the greater the potential for positive outcomes when it comes to expanding research, creating new educational opportunities, improving patient care, and generally increasing the quality of life for people with the syndrome.
Download and share IBS Awareness Month toolkits from IFFGD and other organizations. These toolkits typically contain information about IBS and ways to get involved, such as hanging up or handing out flyers, organizing events in the local community, and using social media to spread awareness using hashtags #IBSAwarenessMonth and #IWant2Know.
COVID-19 has changed the way we hold events, of course, with many organizations holding virtual events – virtual fundraising has also become increasingly popular. IFFGD invites the public to share their digestive health stories with Members of Congress during IFFGD’s 2021 Virtual Advocacy Event, for example, in hopes of making positive changes in national legislation.
Getting involved often starts with simple conversations with people who have IBS or know someone who does. Learning that a family member has similar symptoms can give someone the incentive they need to consult with a gastroenterologist or primary care provider. Listening to a friend or co-worker who has IBS can help reduce the stigma surrounding the condition – it can also help them overcome the embarrassment that many with the syndrome experience every day. Contact legislators and urge them to direct more funding towards IBS research. Creating press releases for local media outlets or community social media groups can help too.
Learn as much as possible about IBS, and help spread research-based information about the condition, its symptoms, and its treatments. Misconceptions and taboos surrounding IBS can prevent people from getting the help they need.
For more information about irritable bowel syndrome and IBS Awareness Month this April, talk to a gastroenterologist or primary care provider. Together, we can find the cause and the cure for the condition that affects so many.