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Stomach trouble? It could be irritable bowel syndrome.

“Irritable bowel syndrome is probably the leading cause for a visit to your neighborhood gastroenterologist,” says Michael Galambos, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital.

The condition is characterized by recurrent, chronic abdominal pain and is often associated with a change in bowel habits. It occurs in the absence of any other identifiable organic diseases. “Probably 30 percent of the population at some point suffers from irritable bowel syndrome complaints,” Dr. Galambos says.

The condition is “a bit chauvinistic,” he says, meaning it occurs almost twice as frequently in women as it does in men. “In my experience, the treatment of patients who have irritable bowel syndrome is often centered around trying to help normalize their motility issues,” he says.

Treatment options include:

  • Medications that reduce colonic motility for patients with increased stool frequency.
  • Medications that stimulate motility for patients who experience slow transit and constipation.
  • Homeopathic remedies, such as increased fiber intake or probiotics to reduce air in the colon.
  • Diet modifications.

Diet and IBS

“Diet is very important in trying to help control symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome,” says Dr. Galambos. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. “One person’s diet is another person’s poison,” he explains.

To discover what triggers symptoms, Dr. Galambos recommends patients go on an “elimination diet,” by limiting themselves to just a few food groups then gradually adding foods back in one at a time to see if one item aggravates symptoms. He says some of his patients who cut back on raw vegetables saw improvements in their symptoms, while others experienced worse symptoms. “It’s variable from individual to individual,” he says. “But diet is clearly very important.”

Lifestyle and symptom management

“Patients with irritable bowel syndrome have real symptoms – they’re not made-up symptoms,” he says. “But with proper treatment, you can live a normal life with them and they do not cause any damage to the digestive system.” Stress management, a healthy diet, good sleeping habits and regular exercise may relieve IBS-related problems.

“General good health often reduces the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome,” says Dr. Galambos. To find a gastroenterologist near you, click here.

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