IBS Misconceptions by Dr Michael Bays
Common IBS Misconceptions
People suffer from the digestive disorder more often that you'd think, but many still don't know the basics of prevention and treatment.
By Joann Kwah, MD
Medically Reviewed by Michael Robert Mills, MD
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Affecting 10 to 20 percent of today’s general population, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a pretty common disorder. However, only 30 percent of patients with IBS symptoms will seek consult a physician about them, according to a 2014 study published in the journalClinical Epidemiology.
This lackluster interest in IBS treatment and prevention can breed a variety of common misconceptions. And even though symptoms can be intermittent — abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation typically lasting for three consecutive days and repeating monthly — IBS can impair a patient’s quality of life, both at work and at home.
By surveying over 700 patients in 2006, Brian Lacy, MD, IBS expert at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire, evaluated the knowledge and concerns of patients living with the disorder, addressing and tackling the popular fallacies recapped below.
MYTH: IBS is caused by food allergies, anxiety and depression, or genetics.
Although many patients associated them with IBS — about 48 percent with food allergies or intolerances, about 80 percent with anxiety, 63 percent with depression, and 52 percent with genetics — none of these factors are actually responsible. However, food allergies, stress, and depression can impact IBS symptoms. It is speculated that a heightened sensitivity in the intestines and colon (which causes overactive nerves) coupled with an imbalance of bacteria in the colon may contribute to IBS development.
MYTH: A colonoscopy is necessary to diagnose IBS.
A colonoscopy is not required to diagnose IBS, even though 45 percent of patients thought it obligatory. IBS is diagnosed using Rome criteria, a checklist of expert-determined symptoms. However, a colonoscopy may be needed to detect alternate diseases.
MYTH: IBS increases colon cancer risk.
Roughly 22 percent of patients were concerned that they would develop colon cancer. Though IBS can be serious and cause a lot of discomfort, there is no evidence linking the disorder to increased risk or susceptibility for colon cancer.
MYTH: A balanced diet helps IBS diagnosis.
Even though 82 percent of patients believed it so, diet modification is not mandatory to help treat IBS. In fact, most people with IBS don’t need to limit their diet, but it’s important to recognize and avoid certain foods — like coffee, chocolate, and nuts to name a few — that may trigger symptoms.
MYTH: Only women get IBS.
While IBS is primarily associated with women, men can develop the disorder. IBS can also affect children and seniors.
Proper education and physician guidance can combat and control the severity and impact of a patient’s IBS. If you are experiencing symptoms, consult a doctor for an assessment and possible treatment.
Dr. Joann Kwah is a gastroenterology fellow at the Boston University Medical Center in Boston, MA. Her areas of specialty include functional disorders, motility diseases, and women's health issues in gastroenterology.
Video: IBS Misconceptions and Helpful Tips (PART 1)
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