Employee & Community Health

Is it something I ate or IBS?

3/14/2019 by Nicole Fellows, PA-C, MS

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Abdominal cramping, bloating, gas, urgent trips to the bathroom. Was it something you ate? Or is it something else. If you've been having ongoing gastrointestinal issues, it may be irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). These FAQs may help you better understand this disease that's hard to talk about. 

Q: What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

A: IBS is a chronic, long-term disease that affects the function of the colon (large intestines) causing gastrointestinal symptoms. It's not the same as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. 

Q: Who gets IBS?

A: Anyone can get IBS, but you may be at higher risk for developing it if you are: 

  • Under age 50
  • Female
  • Have a family history of IBS
  • Have a history of a mental health issues such as anxiety or depression

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: Symptoms may vary from person to person, but can include: 

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Change in stools including diarrhea, constipation or both
  • Excess gas
  • Mucous in stool

Q: How is IBS diagnosed?

A: There's no specific test for IBS, but it can be diagnosed with a history, physical exam and by ruling out other causes of your symptoms. To rule out other causes, you may have some of the following tests: 

  • Stool tests
  • Blood tests
  • Colonoscopy or endoscopy
  • Breath tests
  • Food intolerance tests

Q: How is it treated?

A: There's no cure for IBS. Instead, treatment focuses on controlling symptoms. Most cases can be treated with lifestyle changes, including: 

  • Avoiding foods that aggravate your symptoms
  • Keeping a food and symptoms diary to help determine what foods trigger symptoms
  • Eating a high-fiber diet
  • Using stress-reduction techniques
  • Getting proper sleep
  • Exercising
  • Practicing meditation

If these measures fail, medications may be prescribed by your provider to help with your symptoms. 

Q: Are there any complications of IBS?

A: IBS doesn't lead to cancer or cause damage to the colon. However, it can be very debilitating when symptoms are not managed leading to complications such as: 

  • Dehydration
  • Malnutrition
  • Poor quality of life
  • Mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, avoiding social situations due to symptoms

If you're experiencing symptoms or have questions about your gastrointestinal health, see your care team for further evaluation. 

Nicole Fellows, PA-C, MS, is a physician assistant (PA) in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Internal Medicine. She is a primary care provider and previously practiced as a PA in Colorectal Surgery.