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Health Information Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Don’t let IBS slow you down

Wide range of treatments can ease symptoms

After years of having stomach pain and digestive problems, Melinda*, a 51-year-old mother of three, decided it was time to find out what was wrong with her. There had to be an explanation for her abdominal discomfort, gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.

Maybe it’s an ulcer, she thought, or something worse.

Through a friend, Melinda learned about the Program for Abdominal and Pelvic Health at Rush University Medical Center. There, she spoke with a gastroenterologist, received a complete physical exam and was scheduled for a colon cancer screening.

After ruling out cancer and other serious conditions, her doctor diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), prescribed medication and arranged for additional therapy.

Today she’s feeling much better. She has joined yoga and tai chi classes, worries less about becoming ill at unexpected times and is able to travel and spend more quality time with her family.

IBS: A familiar problem
Melinda’s story is common among IBS patients, says Mary Kraus, who manages the Program for Abdominal and Pelvic Health, the only program of its kind in the Chicago area.

IBS can seriously affect a person’s work, social life and family activities. Fortunately, it’s not life-threatening and does not lead to more serious problems.

Nevertheless, it is a common, nagging condition, says Carline Quander, MD, a gastroenterologist at Rush.

Signs of IBS
There are three types of IBS, based on recurring symptoms. Some people experience constipation and bloating; some have diarrhea; and some have alternating constipation and diarrhea. Abdominal pain is common in all types. Determining which type of IBS patients have helps doctors fine-tune their treatment plans.

If you have had a pattern of abdominal pain and a change in bowel habits over a number of weeks, you may have IBS. It’s important to see a doctor so that more serious conditions can be ruled out.

The exact cause of IBS is unknown. “For reasons we don’t understand, people with IBS have a heightened sensitivity to the normal workings of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, causing it to work more slowly or more quickly than normal,” Quander says.

Diet, stress and IBS
Dairy products, chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, carbonated drinks and fatty foods can aggravate IBS. Even eating a large meal can worsen symptoms.

Alternatively, fiber-rich foods such as bran, whole-grain bread, beans and fruit can help to ease symptoms. Fiber-rich fruits include oranges, mangos and kiwis. Add these foods to your diet slowly, until your body adjusts to the change.

Stress associated with changes in routine can also worsen symptoms. Relaxation training, counseling and participation in regular exercise or a hobby can help with these stressors.

Taming IBS symptoms
Medications are available to alleviate constipation, diarrhea and anxiety. And newer drugs, such as tegaserod, which temper nerve responses between the GI tract and the brain, can also help.

“IBS treatment often requires different therapies in order to get improvement,” Quander says.

That’s what makes the Program for Abdominal and Pelvic Health so useful, Kraus says. A variety of specialists collaborate to determine the best treatment plan for each patient. Treatment may include pain management, counseling, physical therapy, biofeedback and dietary advice.

“The important thing is, you don’t have to live with the symptoms of IBS,” Quander says. “We can help people with IBS feel better.”

For more information about the program visit the the Program for Abdominal and Pelvic Health homepage or call (888) 352-RUSH (7874).

*Name changed to protect privacy.

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Discover Rush, 2006 - Spring
Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

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