Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition of the gastrointestinal tract. Its main symptoms are abdominal pain and altered bowel habits which have no identifiable cause.
IBS is the most commonly diagnosed gastrointestinal condition, second only to the common cold as a cause of absence from work. An estimated 10 to 20 percent of people in the general population experience symptoms of IBS, but only about 15 percent of affected people seek medical help.
Several treatments and therapies are available for IBS. These can help alleviate symptoms, but not cure the condition. The chronic nature of IBS and the challenge of controlling its symptoms are frustrating for both patients and doctors. Treatment is more likely to be successful when a patient gathers information about IBS and works closely with their doctor to tailor a treatment plan.
The causes of IBS remains poorly defined. It is unlikely that a single entity is responsible and it is thought to be multifactorial.
Stress and anxiety can worsen IBS in some people. The best approach for reducing stress and anxiety depends upon the individual and the severity of symptoms. You should have an open discussion with your doctor about the possible role that stress and anxiety could be having on your symptoms, and together decide upon the best course of action for you.
The first step in treating IBS may be close monitoring of your symptoms, your daily habits, and any other factors that may affect gastrointestinal function. This step can identify factors that trigger symptoms in some people with IBS, such as lactose or other food intolerances and stress. A daily diary can be helpful.
Although IBS can produce substantial physical discomfort and emotional distress, studies show that most people with IBS do not develop serious long-term health conditions. Furthermore, the vast majority of patients learn to control their symptoms with improved quality of life.
Over time, less than 5 percent of people originally diagnosed with IBS will be diagnosed with some other gastrointestinal condition, so it is important to work with your doctor to monitor your symptoms over time. Further testing might be required if your symptoms have changed. On the other hand, studies also show that IBS does not decrease life expectancy; people with IBS live just as long as people in the general population.
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