Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which is classified as a functional gastrointestinal disorder, is a chronic condition of the lower gastrointestinal tract. Functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) can affect any part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, including the esophagus, stomach and intestines. IBS is the most common of these disorders. It is sometimes called spastic colon, mucous colitis, spastic colitis, nervous stomach, or irritable colon, but these are outdated terms. Modern research understands IBS as a disorder of increased reactivity of the bowel, visceral hypersensitivity and dysfunction of the brain-gut axis. There are subgroups being defined as well, including post-infectious IBS. About 2/3 of people with IBS are female and 1/3 are male. IBS affects people of all ethnicities and ages, even children, with prevalence ranging from 9%-23% worldwide. IBS can be mild, moderate or severe.
Certain signs and symptoms occur with IBS. Symptom-based criteria for IBS emphasize a positive diagnosis rather than extensive tests to rule out all other diseases. No tests confirm the diagnosis of IBS. A detailed history, physical examination, and limited diagnostic tests help confirm the IBS diagnosis. More extensive testing is reserved for specific situations. A number of symptoms that occur together characterize irritable bowel syndrome.
For symptom based criteria known as Rome III, click here
The symptoms can occur over a long term and come and go over time. Some or all of IBS symptoms can occur at the same time. Some symptoms may be worse than others. Abdominal pain is often described as crampy, or as a generalized ache with periods of cramps. Sharp, dull, gas-like, or modest pains are common. The IBS discomfort or pain usually feels better after a bowel movement. Other symptoms which can and do vary from person to person may accompany IBS. For more on this please check out this link.
IBS is not easily characterized by structural abnormalities, infection, or metabolic disturbances, the underlying mechanisms of IBS have for many years remained unclear. At this time, the exact cause/causes of IBS are unknown and there are no consistent biomarkers. Recent research, however, has led to an increased understanding of IBS.
There is no cure. Treatment interventions focus on management of the symptoms, usually the predominant ones. Options may include, among others, dietary changes, medications, and psychological therapies. A good doctor-patient relationship has been shown to be often helpful as well. (click here for more on treatment) It is, however, important to consider the overall management strategy in IBS. This is necessary because people with IBS exhibit a wide spectrum of symptoms of varying frequencies and degrees of severity. There is no one ideal treatment for IBS. While many people with IBS can be helped adequately with currently existing resources, for others, treatment can be a long, costly, frustrating trial and error with limited effect on the condition. For those in this subset, IBS can greatly disrupt quality of life physically, emotionally, educationally, professionally or socially.
Because of the complexities in the pathophysiology of IBS, major gaps remain in research and effective treatment options as a whole. Despite this symptom cluster being known in the medical literature for several decades, there is an astounding scarcity of accurate public awareness and community resources, treatment options and research facilities and funding compared to many common health conditions and disabilities.
Many people who are significantly affected by IBS live “in the closet” because of embarrassment and stigma. Many express various major unmet needs. Yet, historically, there has not been consistent, organized, and proactive grassroots self-advocacy, as many other health and disability communities have done effectively. IBS Impact was founded in 2010 to break the silence.
Through our website, blog and social media we hope to encourage greater openness and to mentor others with IBS to take active roles, not only in their own IBS management, but also in shaping scientific progress and public policy to benefit all with IBS.
Our Yahoo group is a place where those with IBS and concerned supporters who want to “do something” can discuss common interests and work collaboratively to translate IBS-related needs and desires into real actions and positive changes for our community. Depending on the interests and skills of individual members and the needs that we identify, possible activities may include developing awareness materials or events or peer networking opportunities and advocating for community resources, legislation or increased research funding for IBS. Suggestions from members are always welcome. There is strength in numbers.