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Dr. Kanwal Khan, St. Luke's Hospital

Best ways to manage irritable bowel syndrome

It may interrupt your shopping trip or dinner with friends - there's no way to tell when symptoms might hit. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects about 20 percent of the population and, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, about two in three IBS sufferers are women.

IBS symptoms often can subside and reappear in cycles. This disorder interferes with the normal functions of the colon, yet it does not harm the intestines or cause colon cancer. The exact cause of IBS remains unknown, but it may be due to an abnormal communication problem between the intestines and brain.

Some symptoms include:
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Bloating or passing gas often
  • Changes in bowel movement frequency
Some foods are known to trigger symptoms in people who already have IBS. Figuring out what triggers your symptoms is the key to getting them under control. Some common triggers include carbonated drinks, alcohol, coffee, fatty and greasy foods, chewing gum, large meals and stress.

There is no diagnostic test for IBS - it is diagnosed by its symptoms and by the exclusion of other diseases through diagnostic tests. However, IBS can be controlled by a treatment plan that may include medications, dietary changes, cognitive behavioral therapy and stress relief.

Simple steps to reduce symptoms may include:
  • Eat small frequent meals
  • Eat slowly
  • Drink enough water
  • Eat enough fiber
  • Exercise to relieve stress and help your intestines contract regularly
IBS can only be diagnosed by a physician. If you believe that you might be suffering from IBS, you should talk with your doctor. Once diagnosed, you and you physician will be able to work together to create a treatment plan specifically tailored to your IBS symptoms and triggers.

Though there is no single treatment or cure for IBS, this manageable condition is often successfully addressed through lifestyle changes. With proper monitoring and treatment, IBS should not have a limiting impact on your life.

Dr. Kanwal Khan specializes in internal medicine at Diagnostic Internists of Chesterfield at St. Luke's Hospital. Call 314-878-7220 or visit her Meet the Doctor page.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 16, 2011.

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