Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Managing the Condition

Everyone experiences an upset stomach from time to time. How do you know when it might be more of a chronic issue like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Miranda Sirvinskas, nurse practitioner at Riverside Medical Group’s Internal Medicine Bourbonnais office, shares information about

IBS including symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

What Is IBS?

Miranda Sirvinskas, FNP-C

Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional disorder of the gastrointestinal tract. It is characterized by abdominal pain and altered bowel habits such as diarrhea, alternating diarrhea and constipation, or normal bowel habits alternating with either diarrhea and/or constipation.

Currently, there is no specific diagnostic laboratory test to identify IBS, but there are lab tests to exclude alternate diagnoses. “Among all patients with suspected IBS, we collect a complete blood count. In those who have diarrhea, we might perform various stool tests, testing for celiac disease and C-reactive protein levels to check for infections,” explains Sirvinskas.

What Causes IBS?

Potential factors that contribute to IBS include decreased gastrointestinal motility, meaning that the time it takes for substances to move through the GI tract is decreased—which can cause constipation. Visceral hypersensitivity or increased sensitivity in response to stimuli may cause distention or bloating.

Inflammation of the intestines and bacterial overgrowth may also underlie IBS with diarrhea. Food sensitivities and food allergies may trigger IBS symptoms as well. Lastly, anxiety, sleep problems, depression, and somatic disorders can incite IBS symptoms.

“Anxiety and depression, among other mental health issues, can trigger the IBS symptoms. But, they can also be reversed. The IBS may cause a person to feel anxious, depressed, or stressed. When dealing with illness, having to plan your day around using the bathroom can be embarrassing and exhausting,” notes Sirvinskas. “Sometimes, they may choose not to participate in an event altogether depending on how they feel that day.”

Treatment Options for IBS

When a person is first diagnosed with IBS, the first step is typically to try lifestyle and dietary changes in order to see if triggers can be identified and subsequently eliminated. Physical activity is another great option for reducing the severity of IBS symptoms. In patients with IBS with constipation, a fiber supplement is recommended as a first-line treatment.

If those options fail, laxatives are the next option, such as MiraLAX or Milk of Magnesia—which are available over the counter. Prescription medications are also available. Those with IBS with diarrhea may be offered an antidiarrheal (loperamide) or bile acid sequestrants (cholestyramine).

“There also is another option,” shares Sirvinskas. “Tricyclic antidepressants may be used, because they slow the transit time in the intestines. There are also medications that can be given for abdominal cramping. Antibiotics and probiotics are not routinely used but might be used in certain scenarios.”

Perhaps the most important takeaway from Sirvinskas is that there are solutions for addressing IBS. She assures individuals that this is something a primary care provider can diagnose and treat; it doesn’t necessarily require the input of a gastroenterologist.

Learn more about Primary Care at Riverside or schedule an appointment here.