Why aren't my bowel habits normal?
April 21, 2014
By Genee Holtzman, ARNP
Do you have irregular, uncomfortable, or distressing bowel habits? Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is the most common gastrointestinal condition affecting an estimated 15% of the general population. It is most common among women aged 30 to 49 years old.
IBS is a chronic condition of the digestive system that is not generally associated with more concerning findings of anemia, weight loss, family history of colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, or celiac disease. Symptoms of IBS include abdominal discomfort, constipation and diarrhea. Despite extensive research, no common cause of IBS has been identified. Some theories include:
- Increased stress and anxiety resulting in gastrointestinal manifestations
- Change in bowel habits that develops after a severe gastrointestinal infection
- Food intolerances and sensitivities developed over time
- Heightened sensitivity of the intestines
IBS can be difficult to diagnose because symptoms may resemble several other gastrointestinal disorders. Unfortunately, there is no diagnostic test for IBS. Some testing to help rule out more serious causes of gastrointestinal distress include stool studies, serum labs, imaging, and colonoscopy (especially in people over the age of 40).
Possible treatments include:
- Exercise and stress reduction
- Keeping a food diary to identify specific trigger foods
- Dietary changes (e.g. low FODMAP diet )
- Herbal remedies, acupuncture or alternative medicine
- Fiber and bulking agents
- Pelvic floor evaluation
- Antispasmodic agents
- Antidiarrheal medication
- Antidepressant medication
- Psychological or talk therapy
If you are concerned that you may have IBS, talk with your health care provider.