what is ibs

(photo: commons.wikimedia)
(photo: commons.wikimedia)

I saw several conventional doctors [who couldn’t help me], so I decided to see a gastroenterologist. He told me that there’s not much that can be done about my IBS.

He told me to reduce my stress, and gave me a list of foods to eat that are rich in fiber. I tried these things, but it hardly made any difference. So I turned to alternative medicine and tried homeopathy, supplements, acupuncture, and an elimination diet…but none of those worked either.

I did some more research and found the IBS Treatment Center online. I decided to take the chance, and I am so glad I did. I’ve been telling people that it was the best money I’ve ever spent! I was so impressed with the whole operation.

– Former IBS Treatment Center patient Amanda McLean

 

What Does a Gastroenterologist Do?

Many people assume that gastroenterologists are experts in all things related to the digestive tract. However, they are experts in diseases of the digestive tract, but not syndromes or symptoms.

Gastroenterologists primarily focus on performing colonoscopies and upper endoscopies. They may also do other imaging work of the GI tract, such as an ultrasound, CT scan,MRI, x-rays, and even “pill cameras”. And they may perform studies that assess the motility of the digestive tract. Therefore, if you go to a gastroenterologist your diagnosis will be based on this testing. Notice that all of the things mentioned so far are visual exams.

Gastroenterology is primarily a specialty in assessing the structure of the digestive tract. Gastroenterologists are focused on diagnosing ulcers, polyps, cancers, and other physically apparent abnormalities of the digestive tract.

Surprisingly, gastroenterologists do not have training in nutrition or most reactions to foods. And though the digestive tract is the single most concentrated area of immune activity, gastroenterologists have no special training in immunology. The tools of the gastroenterologist are all very useful tools – they are really important to diagnose cancers, structural problems, certain kinds of infections, and other problems. But the standard of care for problems other than those is purely palliative (also known as care to make you feel better about having IBS).

IBS Specialist

IBS specialists are experts in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A gastroenterologist may diagnose IBS, but that will only tell you what you already know, that your bowel irritates you. To the IBS specialist the label of IBS only serves as a starting point for further investigation, nothing more.

The IBS specialist focuses on assessing and diagnosing the cause of your digestive problems, not on the gross structural integrity of the digestive tract. Rather than focusing on the patients symptoms, or simply treating the symptoms, the IBS specialist is devoted to identifying the condition or conditions in the patient that are causing the symptoms. There are literally hundreds of different causes of IBS and the digestive problems associated with IBS.

This process involves a detailed evaluation of how the body is responding to the foods in the diet (food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities), and a thorough assessment of the profound ecosystem (including probiotics, yeast, bad bacteria, and parasites) that is contained within the digestive tract.

It may also involve evaluating enzyme production, acid production, and the overall functioning of the digestive tract. IBS specialists do not do what gastroenterologist do, and gastroenterologists do not do what IBS specialists do. These are completely different specialties. There is only a very tiny amount of overlap with regard to stool testing. But even this is extremely minor as the IBS specialist utilizes much more advanced stool analyses.

(photo: commons.wikimedia)

 

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Dr. Stephen Wangen of the IBS Treatment Center.
Dr. Stephen Wangen of the IBS Treatment Center.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or spastic colon is a bowel disorder characterized by diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating and chronic abdominal pain.

It is fairly common and makes up 20-50% of visits to gastroenterologists. Although formal diagnosis depends on a very specific set of symptoms, the range of symptoms that occur in patients diagnosed with IBS is fairly wide.

The cause of IBS varies from person to person, which is what makes irritable bowel syndrome and its symptoms so difficult for most doctors to treat. However, through proper testing it is possible to identify the exact cause or causes of the symptoms and live a life free of digestive problems.

There are several hundred potential causes of IBS, but they can be broken down into two major categories:
Food Allergies and Intolerances; and Intestinal Microorganisms and Parasites.

Learn more by visiting our website.

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Celeste Cooper's Interview with Dr. Wangen, IBS Specialist

peepsThis is an excerpt from a recent interview by Celeste Cooper, RN, with the IBS Treatment Center’s Dr. Stephen Wangen. 

It is the opinion of this interviewer, Celeste Cooper, RN, that irritable bowel syndrome is a comorbid condition to many immune disorders. In my interview with Dr. Wangen, I found what he had to say very interesting, and I think you will too.



Dr. Stephen Wangen, ND and the IBS Treatment Center have a mission to provide the best care possible for irritable bowel syndrome. He says, “You not only look at symptoms, you have to look for the cause of the problem and, most drugs are only designed to treat symptoms.” 



So Dr. Wangen:



How do you determine need?



Anyone suffering from a digestive problem needs to seek help from someone who is focused on solving IBS. Digestive problems should not be unpredictable. In fact, they shouldn’t happen at all except on rare occasions.



Can you share a few of the causes you have found in IBS?



There are so many causes. One of the advantages of specializing in this area is the ability to sort through those and determine which are relevant for each patient. The digestive tract is a fascinating ecosystem that contains 100 trillion bacteria and a majority of our immune system. The health of this environment plays a role in the development of food intolerances, food allergies, and food sensitivities, all of which must be assessed. It also is impacted by everything we ingest, and it has the potential to be affected by yeast overgrowth (Candida), parasites, and even stress. All of these play a role in leaky gut syndrome, which is another aspect of digestive health. I have seen patients with food allergies that they never even imagined possible, such as to cane sugar, and people with yeast or parasites that had been completely missed. But most patients have several factors negatively affecting their digestion all at the same time. That is why it is often challenging to figure out by yourself.



Why did you decide to start a center based solely on treatment of IBS?



I once suffered from IBS. When I saw doctors, they had no idea why I had my symptoms. They made guesses and nothing helped. I was told that it was stress and labeled it as IBS. That didn’t leave me with any more knowledge than when I first started. I already knew that my bowel irritated me. As I began to see patients, I became more focused on finding the cause of digestive problems, and then I became more successful at helping patients. Ironically, it usually isn’t stress that causes the problem, but IBS that causes the stress!
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CrohnsWe recently came across an article from medicalxpress.com titled, “Researchers describe new form of irritable bowel syndrome.”

The latest in the world of more useless medical information has now given us a new form of IBS. This form is called Post-Diverticulitis IBS. Like all forms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), this new IBS diagnosis offers no understanding of the cause of the IBS, nor a treatment plan to successfully cure it.

Excerpt from medicalxpress:

“We’ve known for a long time that after some people develop diverticulitis, they’re a different person. They experience recurrent abdominal pains, cramping and diarrhea that they didn’t have before,” Spiegel said. “The prevailing wisdom has been that once diverticulitis is treated, it’s gone. But we’ve shown that IBS symptoms occur after the diverticulitis, and it may result from an inflammatory process like a bomb going off in the body and leaving residual damage.”

Patients with diverticulitis have long known that they often have digestive problems when they do not have a diverticulitis flare-up. And doctors have long known this as well. Giving it a name changes absolutely nothing for the patient. However, it does create the potential to come up with drugs to target this now named disease, and the potential for other profitable procedures to be developed as well.

This may sound cynical, but it is how our medical system works. We come up with new names for old conditions, and then we pretend to treat them. No one in this article is addressing the cause of the problem, but they are patting themselves on the back for creating a new medical category.

Of course, there is a cause for this type of IBS, just as there is for all types of IBS. But in order to find it you have to work with an IBS specialist, someone who is looking at causes and not just treating symptoms.

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Causes of IBS: Intestinal Microorganisms and Parasites

(img from commons.wikimedia)
(img from commons.wikimedia)

Our intestines are a rich and thriving ecosystem, when we are healthy.

The massive surface of our intestines (about the same as a tennis court) provides everything needed for life – space, moisture, and nutrients. Given the ubiquity of anti-bacterial products in our society, many people are surprised to learn that they have about 10 trillion bacteria living in their intestines. But not only do we have bacteria lining our digestive tract, we desperately need them.

There are basically three types of micro-organisms living in our intestines: Good bacteria; Bad bacteria/microorganisms; and Disease organisms.

The good bacteria include species and strains that we evolved with, like acidopholus and bifidobacterium. These are an essential part of our digestive systems and we would not survive without them. They help us to digest food by producing enzymes, manufacture some of the essential nutrients that we need to live, assist in the development of our immune system, and prevent infection by occupying the space in the intestines that unwelcome organisms would thrive in, if they could.

The bad bacteria and microorganisms include many species and strains that don’t symbiotically help us, but rather upset the balance. These can include bacteria that crowd out the species we need or other organisms like yeast. While some bad bacteria and yeast are often present in small numbers in healthy people, excessive yeast growth can upset the balance and trigger all kinds of effects. Since the advent of medical antibiotics it is quite common for people to use wide-spectrum anti-biotics and unwittingly kill off the bacteria they need, allowing bad microorganisms to ‘claim more turf’ and upset the balance.
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(image thanks to naturallyfreerd.com)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a symptom set that can be caused by celiac disease. 

The take away for those with IBS – get tested for celiac disease and other forms of gluten intolerance as part of your diagnosis process.  Testing can help you identify what you need to do to address the cause of your symptoms.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is diagnosed by measuring damage to the small intestine, either by blood testing or, traditionally, with a biopsy of the small intestine. A positive biopsy means that the villi, or small finger-like extensions of the intestinal lining, have been damaged; this is known as villous atrophy. However, recent studies have shown blood testing to be as accurate as a biopsy.

People with celiac disease will show a marked reduction in their villi, almost as if the villi have been worn off. Damage to the villi causes a dramatic reduction in the surface area of the small intestine, resulting in both poor digestion and the poor absorption of many nutrients.

Celiac disease is not the only form of gluten intolerance or allergy. Many people react to gluten by producing elevated IgG antibodies to gluten or wheat, but they do not have damage to the small intestine. Their test results for celiac disease are negative. They become quite frustrated with traditional medicine, with its narrow focus on celiac disease, because they are told that their negative test results meant that they are not allergic or intolerant to wheat, barley, or rye. Yet when they eat a piece of bread they become sick.

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The biggest misconception about IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) is that it defines a specific medical condition.

IBS is, by definition, just a group of symptoms affecting the digestive tract that haven’t been explained. Unlike cancer, a stroke, or the flu, IBS is more of a starting point than a diagnosis, because it doesn’t provide any new information.

Once a person has the symptoms it is necessary to do additional testing to identify the cause of those symptoms – what you might call an actual diagnosis. Once you have an actual diagnosis, then you can treat whatever it is that causes the symptoms and usually stop them.

IBS Misconception #2

A second common misconception is that IBS is only caused by one thing. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The digestive tract is very complicated, but can only display a limited range of symptoms. There are many things that can cause constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, gas, bloating, etc. Any individual might have one or more of the causes at any one time.

There is a wide range of causes of IBS and many patients have more than one cause, sometimes several causes, at the same time. For example, many patients have an allergy to a food, which causes them to have IBS symptoms. But not all IBS patients have food allergies.

Many patients have bacterial or microbial issues, for example, not enough of the needed digestive bacteria are living in their digestive tract. But not all IBS patients have bacterial issues. Some patients have food allergies, bacterial/microbial issues, and other factors. To correctly diagnose the cause of IBS symptoms it is necessary to test for a range of potential causes. If you don’t treat all of the conditions you have, your IBS probably won’t be resolved.
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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or spastic colon is a bowel disorder characterized by diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating and chronic abdominal pain.

It is fairly common and makes up 20-50% of visits to gastroenterologists. Although formal diagnosis depends on a very specific set of symptoms, the range of symptoms that occur in patients diagnosed with IBS is fairly wide.

The cause of IBS varies from person to person, which is what makes irritable bowel syndrome and its symptoms so difficult for most doctors to treat. However, through proper testing it is possible to identify the exact cause or causes of the symptoms and live a life free of digestive problems.

There are several hundred potential causes of IBS, but they can be broken down into two major categories: 


  1. Food Allergies and Intolerances; and
  2. Intestinal Microorganisms and Parasites.

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(Image thanks aspanational.wordpress.com)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is defined by a set of symptoms affecting a patient’s gastrointestinal system. These symptoms, or immune system reactions, can be produced by a wide range of different medical conditions.

Most often, IBS symptoms are caused by one or more of the following: chemical mechanisms resulting from reactions to certain foods; microorganisms in the gut including bacteria and parasites; yeasts; or celiac disease (gluten intolerance).

8 Quick Facts about IBS:

1. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects 10-20% of the general population, with women 20-40 years old accounting for the majority of patients. (Astegiano et. al. 2008)

2. Irritable bowel syndrome affects approximately 10-15% of the European population and up to 70% of individuals with IBS may not be formally diagnosed. (Quigley et. al. 2006)

3. Patients with IBS cost a average $1300 more per year than non-IBS patients (Levy et. al. 2001) 



4. IBS results in more than $10 billion in direct costs (eg, office visits, medications) and $20 billion in indirect costs (eg, through work absenteeism and reduced productivity) each year. (Foxx-Orenstein A. 2006)

5. Approximately 12% of all primary care doctor visits are IBS related, making IBS one of the top 10 reasons people go to the doctor. (Cash 2005)

6. Roughly 30% of all visits to a gastroenterologist are IBS related, making it the number one reason people see a gastroenterologist. (Cash 2005)

7. IBS is the leading cause of missed work days in the US (second only to the common cold). (Cash 2005)

8. IBS patients are more likely than others to have their gall bladder removed unnecessarily and with no positive effect on their IBS. (Corazziari et. al. 2008)

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More information at IBS Treatment Center

Image thanks to aspanational.wordpress.com

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Most people with IBS are suffering at least in part because of an allergic reaction to one or more foods. This often surprises people, who don’t believe that they have allergies. This is because they have friends whose allergy symptoms are different, or they think that food allergies result in hives, a rash, or some kind of medical emergency.

But even for those who have already had food allergy testing, chances are it wasn’t very helpful. This is because the majority of food allergy testing is only designed to measure allergies that produce skin rashes. The skin prick testing that is standard practice does demonstrate whether or not the patient will have a rash in reaction to exposure to the allergens used. However it doesn’t and can’t measure other types of immune system responses or immune system activities that involve certain types of antibodies.

People often have a tough time believing that they may have a food allergy because they’ve eaten the “offending” foods before, some every day, and have not suffered from consistently severe symptoms. Maybe they’ve had just a little diarrhea or constipation once in a while, until suddenly it gets worse or new symptoms develop. Symptoms of food allergies, including IBS symptoms, can show up at any age, from birth to old age. The challenge in discovering the food allergy is in getting the proper testing done and in getting the proper education about where the offending foods are hidden in your diet. Most clinics offer neither, even those that supposedly focus on allergies.

The immune system functions like a sentinel standing guard against foreign invaders. In the case of an allergy, the invaders are called allergens. The primary weapon that it uses against invaders is the production of antibodies. The antibodies cause reactions that result in the offending allergens being removed from the body. In many people, foods act as allergens rather than nutrition. This can result in the symptoms of IBS.

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Digestive tract (image thanks to wikipedia)

Gastroenterology

People often make assumptions about medical specialists and their areas of expertise. This is certainly true with gastroenterology, where many people assume that gastroenterologists are experts in all things related to the digestive tract.

Gastroenterologists are experts in diseases of the digestive tract, not syndromes or symptoms. While Gastroenterologists do primarily pay attention to the digestive tract, there are some surprising gaps in their training on the science of digestion. Gastroenterologists primarily focus on performing colonoscopies and upper endoscopies. They may also do other imaging work of the GI tract, such as an ultrasound, CT scan,MRI, x-rays, and even “pill cameras”. And they may perform studies that assess the motility of the digestive tract. Therefore, if you go to a gastroenterologist your diagnosis will be based on this testing.

Notice that all of the things mentioned so far are visual exams. Gastroenterology is primarily a specialty in assessing the structure of the digestive tract. Gastroenterologists are focused on diagnosing ulcers, polyps, cancers, and other physically apparent abnormalities of the digestive tract.

A gastroenterologist may run a stool test for pathogens such as giardia, salmonella, and hemorrhagic E. coli, although any doctor can test for these. However, H. pylori may be assessed via a biopsy done during an endoscopy.
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