More than 60 million people in the US suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and many of them do it in silence for decades.
The condition is marked by bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation—sometimes both. In other words, seriously uncomfortable problems that can affect work, family time, and quality of life, but that many people are uncomfortable talking about.
“Patients may say, ‘Well, I’ve had this problem for 20 years,” says Dr. Mark Pimentel, director of the GI Motility Clinic at Cedars-Sinai, whose pioneering research has fundamentally changed treatment of the disease. “They start to normalize their pattern.”
For many years, there was no test for IBS, but Dr. Pimentel’s laboratory has developed one called IBSchek. The blood test screens for antibodies in the blood stream that are linked to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth—the culprit behind the disease.
IBS symptoms may include:
- Frequent loose or watery stools
- Excess gas
- Sudden urges to go to the bathroom
- Frequent need to go to the bathroom
- Losing control of bowels
If you suspect you have IBS, Dr. Pimentel has this advice:
- Don’t ignore changes in bowel function. Going too often? Not often enough? Painful gas and bloating and unusual bowel movements may not be comfortable to talk about—but they can hurt your quality of life. Speak up and talk to your doctor.
- Don’t hesitate to ask your general practitioner to refer you to a GI specialist. A specialist will be more familiar with how to handle your symptoms and what the potential causes are.
- Ask for an IBSchek exam. The blood test is simple, widely available, and it’s the only reliable blood test that can detect IBS.
- Avoid popular kombucha and probiotic products. Dr. Pimentel recommends his patients avoid them. Overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine is the cause of IBS. More bacteria won’t help.
- Eat a low residue diet. Low residue diets are low in fiber. This is good for people with IBS because their food is digested and absorbed higher up in the intestine, away from the bacterial overgrowth. The diet eliminates many sweeteners; limits or eliminates beans, lentils, and peas; limits fruits; encourages proteins, non-starchy vegetables, and lots of water.