April – National Irritable Bowel Awareness Month
Nearly 45 million Americans suffer from a condition they might find embarrassing to talk about, but health experts say it’s important to discuss with your doctor to find relief.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a condition of the digestive system that affects people of all ages according to Joshua Vandersteen, an Ogden gastroenterologist. Symptoms can vary significantly but include abdominal discomfort and pain, cramping, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
“It can be difficult to diagnose and understand because it is a hodgepodge of symptoms that can also be the result of many other conditions,” he said. “Diagnosing IBS requires medical testing, which is mostly used to rule out other conditions such as celiac disease or colon cancer.”
Although there are many theories, Vandersteen said, there is no known cause of IBS despite numerous studies and investigations.
“There are no risks with this condition, but it can seriously affect your life to the point of being rather miserable,” he said. “Most people will have this condition for life, though we have found that it can be intermittent, coming and going over periods of time.”
April is National Irritable Bowel Awareness Month. Because it is an often stigmatized and misunderstood condition, the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders has launched a social media campaign — #LifeWithIBS — across all platforms in the hopes that people will become more educated about the condition.
“As of recently, it has become easier to access education materials. Hopefully, utilizing this access with make us more consciously aware of the impacts of many illnesses such as IBS,” IFFGD President Ceciel T. Rooker stated in a press release. “As we raise awareness this month, we hope to continue to break the stigmas that are commonly associated with IBS.”
Stigmas include the lack of belief in the diagnosis, not taking the condition seriously, and writing it off as “all in the patient’s head,” according to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation. These stigmas, which can come from employers, co-workers, healthcare professionals, and friends, have led to an increase in depression and anxiety among those who suffer from IBS.
Vandersteen said it’s important to take the symptoms of IBS seriously, and that individuals suffering from symptoms should see their physician for diagnosis and treatment.
“Treatment really depends upon the symptoms, but could include eliminating foods that cause irritation, antispasmodic medications, and medication treatments for constipation and diarrhea,” Vandersteen said. “Many people find they can have long periods where they tolerate a normal diet. Diet management is important. Some common foods that can worsen IBS are dairy, beans, and certain vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower.”
Vandersteen also said managing mental health can help people afflicted with the disease.