Everyone experiences occasional tummy troubles now and then, but when they occur more often than not, it may be a condition called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Telling the difference between garden variety stomach discomfort and IBS can be tricky, as many of the symptoms are similar. Since April is Irritable Bowel Awareness Month, Dr. Darrien Gaston at Metropolitan Gastroenterology Consultants has outlined the differences between everyday indigestion and classic IBS for our patients throughout the Beverly area of Chicago, Illinois.
Common abdominal issues
If you’ve been experiencing abdominal discomfort and are trying to figure out what’s causing it, start with the simplest possible culprits first. Often, the reason for your tummy troubles is not a medical condition, but rather a matter of certain lifestyle choices you make. Here are some of the most common causes of minor stomach problems:
- Excess alcohol consumption
- High-fat foods
- Spicy foods
- Eating too quickly
- Not chewing food completely before swallowing
Abdominal discomfort caused by these issues is easily treated, as it typically only requires a change in diet and certain habits.
There’s some overlap between the symptoms of an ordinary upset stomach and IBS; both may cause:
- Diarrhea and/or constipation
However, upset stomach symptoms are typically felt in the upper abdomen. You’re more likely to feel nauseous and you may even vomit.
Irritable bowel syndrome
As many as 45 million Americans suffer from IBS, with or without a formal diagnosis. Many of them simply tolerate the symptoms as their lot in life and never seek medical help for their condition. And that’s unfortunate because, while there’s no cure for IBS, there are treatments available that can help you manage the symptoms and significantly increase the quality of your life.
IBS differs from a regular stomachache in that it’s usually felt in the lower abdomen, and is characterized by changes in bowel movements, including frequency, appearance, and pain or cramping.
Mild IBS can lead to severe IBS, which may cause more serious symptoms, such as:
- Rectal bleeding
- Unintentional weight loss
- Nighttime diarrhea
- Trouble swallowing
If IBS is taking over your life, causing you to miss work or school, and making you feel depressed or anxious, it’s time to get help.
Dr. Gaston has years of experience and can get to the bottom of your digestive issues. If he determines you have IBS, one of the first steps toward alleviating it is to keep a diary for a few weeks to figure out what triggers your flare-ups. For some people, it’s food; for others, it’s emotional stress or some other lifestyle factor. Once you discover what makes your IBS worse, you can take steps to reduce your triggers — and therefore your IBS episodes.
Once you control your symptoms as much as possible with lifestyle changes, Dr. Gaston can help you improve the function of your digestive system.
Some cases of IBS are caused by a bacterial or viral infection that needs to be addressed. Or you may have an imbalance in your gut microbes that can be corrected with pre- and probiotics.
If medications are necessary, Dr. Gaston may prescribe drugs to reduce bacterial growth, relax your colon, reduce muscle contractions, or increase fluid production in your small intestine to treat your unique symptoms.
Don’t suffer with IBS — help is available at Metropolitan Gastroenterology Consultants. To schedule an appointment, call us to day or book online.