If the only knowledge you have about irritable bowel syndrome is from commercials you’ve seen on TV, you aren’t alone. Issues dealing with the bowels aren’t something that most of us spend a lot of time talking about. That’s one of the reasons that you might not recognize the symptoms when they happen to you.
Why Is IBS Overlooked?
IBS symptoms are often overlooked because they aren’t consistent from one person to the next. They aren’t even the same every time you have an episode. Symptoms differ in the types of pain, discomfort, when the symptoms occur, and their severity. Patients may not think that they are in a high-risk category or that they are the wrong age or sex to develop IBS. There’s no definitive way to diagnose IBS. Instead, doctors use a combination of your medical history, a physical exam, and tests including sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy to rule out other causes.
Who Gets IBS?
The average IBS patient is a middle-aged female. But most people have their first symptoms between the ages of 20 and 30. IBS can affect males or females of any age. It often starts during the teen years and lasts for the rest of the person’s life. IBS doesn’t lead to cancer or damage the bowel, but it can make you miserable and reduce your quality of life.
The trademark symptoms of IBS are diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. Nearly every person with IBS has them, either alone or in some combination. But every person with these symptoms doesn’t have IBS. These symptoms and some of those that are lesser-known mimic those of other conditions including colon cancer. When the symptoms are indicative of some other disease or condition, getting an early diagnosis could mean the difference between life and death.
The Lesser-Known Symptoms of IBS
In addition to lower abdominal pain, you might also experience cramping, gas, and bloating. Symptoms come and go, often after stress, a lack of sleep, food, or changes in gut bacteria act as triggers to bring on an episode. When gas and bloating occur together, it is usually caused by the fermentation of food in your digestive tract. When these symptoms of IBS are accompanied by changes in bowel habits or bloody stools, they may be symptoms of colon cancer.
Some people with IBS experience extreme tiredness and/or insomnia. It’s easy to overlook fatigue and difficulty sleeping when you have stressful events going on in your life. One way to tell if your tiredness and insomnia are IBS-related is to pay attention to whether you have abdominal pain the next day after a restless night. If you do, IBS could be the cause of both symptoms.
Many people with IBS also experience nausea upon waking in the morning. Most often, it occurs along with constipation. The nausea varies in severity, sometimes being relieved after having a bowel movement and other times becoming severe enough to cause vomiting.
Eating isn’t always easy with IBS, either. Early satiety can keep you from getting a healthy diet. This symptom is also one that occurs with pancreatic cancer, stomach ulcers, and other gastrointestinal diseases and conditions. When early satiety is caused by IBS, it often occurs with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and causes heartburn after eating.
It isn’t surprising that people often overlook backache and muscle pain as symptoms of IBS. Muscle pain is especially common in people who have fibromyalgia. Someone who commonly experiences pain might not realize their aching muscles are the result of a different condition. Women are also vulnerable to IBS-related pain during and after sex. Like some other less-common symptoms of IBS, this one could also be a sign of something more serious.
Other Reasons for Overlooking IBS Symptoms
Most of us have been taught that it’s not polite to discuss bowel habits in society. Too often, people are willing to overlook symptoms rather than get them diagnosed. This is never a good idea. If your symptoms are IBS, modern treatments can help keep them under control. Even though there is no cure for IBS, you can reduce the discomfort. If your symptoms turn out to be something more serious, getting an early diagnosis will make treatment more effective. Carolina Digestive Health Associates has 14 of the best gastroenterologists in the Charlotte region and eight offices so you can find the location nearest you. Don’t let misconceptions about IBS symptoms or embarrassment prevent you from getting tested and having your condition diagnosed. Contact Carolina Digestive Health Associates and schedule an appointment today!