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Is it IBS or Something Else?

For Immediate Release

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MILWAUKEE WI (February 24, 2006) - One common concern of patients with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome is that they have "something else."

IBS, which affects up to one in every five people, is characterized by chronic or recurring abdominal pain or discomfort associated with diarrhea, constipation or other changes in bowel patterns. It often can be diagnosed during a medical history and physical examination by its symptoms alone or along with limited testing.

"Patients sometimes worry they have some other disease, especially if their symptoms are persistent or severe, or if they know other people who had similar symptoms but a different disorder," explains Dr. Lin Chang, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Digestive Diseases at UCLA.

Colorectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease may cause IBS-like symptoms, but affected individuals usually have other symptoms that are not frequently present in IBS. They also can be diagnosed by specialized tests.

Gynecological disorders, like endometriosis and ovarian cancer, can cause chronic lower abdominal pain and bloating, but these symptoms are not usually related to meals or defecation as in IBS. However, gastrointestinal symptoms can be vague and a gynecologic exam can help distinguish these disorders from IBS. Women should have annual pelvic examinations whether or not they have IBS symptoms.

Tips for Dealing with IBS

  • Educate yourself about IBS.
  • Use a diary to identify factors that influence symptoms.
  • Partner with your doctor. Establish treatment goals and develop a plan to manage your symptoms.
  • Join a patient organization, like IFFGD, for support and ongoing information.

Certain symptoms, like unexplained weight loss or rectal bleeding, are not typical of IBS and signal the need for additional tests to identify other conditions. Remember that IBS is common and people may sometimes have another coexisting disorder that is not responsible for their IBS symptoms. Doctors can help sort this out.

"It is important to talk to your doctor. Once your physician has made a confident diagnosis, you can focus on developing a treatment plan with your doctor," says Nancy Norton, president and founder of the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. "Education is an important first step in that process."

For more information about IBS, visit www.aboutibs.org or call (888) 964-2001.

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Last modified on February 29, 2008 at 10:46:36 AM