There are currently approximately 35 million adult Americans living with IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome) today. According to renowned gastroenterologist Dr. Anthony Lembo “Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition that presents with abdominal pain that’s associated with alteration of bowel habits, either constipation, diarrhea or even sometimes both.” With the holiday party season upon us, and many indulging in decadent food they typically wouldn’t eat, this can cause symptoms for those who don’t know they are living with this common yet painful condition.
Dr. Anthony Lembo was kind enough to join me for an interview to discuss IBS from the most common symptoms to lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce symptoms, treatment options and much more.
Candace Rose: What is IBS?
Dr. Anthony Lembo: “Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition that presents with abdominal pain that’s associated with alteration of bowel habits, either constipation, diarrhea or even sometimes both. It’s a very common condition. Studies show that up to 35 million adults experience symptoms of IBS. What we found in our survey shows that it can have a significant negative impact on the quality of life and people are often reluctant to discuss IBS symptoms with their physicians.”
Candace Rose: What are some of the most common symptoms of IBS?
Dr. Anthony Lembo: “Abdominal pain would be the most common and typically it’s a crampy abdominal pain that’s intermittent, meaning that it comes and goes. In our survey it was about two to three days per week was the average. Again, it’s associated with a change in bowel habits, so what that means is when the pain comes often times people will experience more or fewer bowel movements.
Other symptoms include abdominal bloating, sometimes with a visible distention of their belly as well. It can have a variety of symptoms. It affects people differently too. Some people will experience more severe symptoms such as abdominal pain, where others may experience more severe bloating and less abdominal pain. It really is different from person to person.”
Candace Rose: Who is at risk for IBS?
Dr. Anthony Lembo: “Mostly it’s younger people between 20s and 40s is where it tends to affect people most commonly, but it can affect people at any age. It can affect children, as well as the more elderly people. As I indicated it oftentimes is chronic, many people experience it for years, often decades.”
Candace Rose: According to the recent survey 67% of people wait a year or more before seeking help from their doctor. Why do you think this is and how can we change that?
Dr. Anthony Lembo: “Well, that’s one of the purposes of the survey. We’re emphasizing that we would like people to speak up early, completely and often with their physician so they can get the correct diagnosis and start the appropriate treatment. But I probably think it’s due to a number of factors why people won’t seek care. I think sometimes people think that it’s nothing serious, other times people think there’s no good treatment for it because we all experience some abdominal symptoms and oftentimes we think it’s just going to go away but IBS continues on chronically.
The other thing we found that’s important is people are often embarrassed to talk about it. People are reluctant to discuss their bowels with their physician. One of the things we found in our survey was that people felt more comfortable talking about sexually transmitted diseases than they did talking about their bowels with their physicians so we want to find that. We want people to speak up about their symptoms and get the appropriate treatment.”
Candace Rose: Do you have any advice on how patients can have better discussions with their physicians?
Dr. Anthony Lembo: “Well, the first is just talking about it and that it’s nothing to be embarrassed about, that it’s a common condition, you shouldn’t suffer in silence and you’re not alone with this disorder. Not only talk about whether you’re constipated or have diarrhea but actually go into more detail about it, so your physician can truly understand the symptoms that you experience, the impact that your symptoms have on your quality of life and that can help your physician direct the appropriate treatment.”
Candace Rose: How is IBS typically treated?
Dr. Anthony Lemo: “Because people present differently, it can vary from person to person. It is individualized. One of the things we found in the survey is that a number of people were getting advice from family and friends, and oftentimes following that advice. What may be appropriate for one person may not be appropriate for another and that’s where you really need to talk to your physician.
In general we start with more conservative therapies, for example we start with lifestyle modifications. We know that the food that we eat can have an impact on our symptoms. It can exacerbate IBS symptoms, so modifications there may be appropriate. Again your physician can help direct you there. Other lifestyle things such as getting proper sleep, reducing stress, getting plenty of exercise can help alleviate some of the symptoms of IBS.
There are other treatments, there are medications for IBS that can change the frequency of your bowel habits, reduce the abdominal symptoms that are associated with it. There are several new prescription therapies that are available, there are behavioral therapies that are available. An important message is that there are treatments that are available for IBS and they can be effective at alleviating your symptoms, although there isn’t a cure for IBS necessarily.”
Candace Rose: Well, thank you so much Dr. Lembo. Where can we go for more information?
Dr. Anthony Lembo: “The results of the survey can be found on the website IBSinAmerica.Gastro.org. That website also includes link to other websites that contain additional information on IBS.”