Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a diagnosis given to patients when the doctor can’t find anything wrong. It implies that the problem isn’t all that severe and is likely mostly in the patient’s head.
Yet people who suffer from IBS know all too well that IBS can be not only disruptive to their life, but also extremely debilitating. And being given antidepressants or acid blocking medications, to name a few, does little to address the cause of their suffering.
The facts about IBS are very enlightening.
At least 35 million people in the United Stated suffer from it. It is a primary cause of lost work days, second only to the common cold. It is one of the top 10 reasons that people visit the doctor, and it is the primary reason people see a gastroenterologist. In fact, it is one the most common problems in our country.
Despite all of this, most doctors know very little about IBS. IBS is rarely talked about, and increasing the level of knowledge around IBS is almost unheard of.
The only time IBS is brought up is either by a comedian or a commercial about a new drug that at best temporarily treats a symptom and at worst comes with a host of bad side effects.
For too many people who suffer from IBS, it is neither funny nor a mere inconvenience. Many of our patients express how significantly IBS has affected their lives. They may not be comfortable in social situations, they may not be able to go out for fear of an unpredictable digestive urgency, they can’t spend long periods in the car, and they always have to know where the nearest bathroom is.
Some people have to arrange their lives so that they work from home, or don’t go to work until the afternoon, or simply have to embarrassingly excuse themselves from meetings on a frequent basis. And many people have simply given up and quit their job or lost it due to IBS.
In fact, something very serious is wrong. It must be to disrupt so many lives in ways that significantly alter professional, personal, and social activities. But the diagnosis of IBS does nothing to enlighten the cause of the problem.
It is primarily given to try to calm fears. It’s as if to say, “Congratulations, you’re not going to die.”
Unfortunately it also means, “Congratulations, we don’t know what to do for you.”
This of course leaves you right back to where you started: with an irritated bowel and nowhere to turn. And that’s when you need an expert in IBS, because it’s obviously a complicated problem, or it would be easy to cure.
Please don’t assume that it can’t be treated just because you haven’t been helped yet. Our experience is just the opposite.
Dr. Stephen Wangen is the award winning author of two books on solving digestive disorders, and a nationally recognized speaker on IBS. He has been on ABC, NBC, and Fox as well as public radio. He was recently named one of Seattle’s Top Doctors by Seattle Magazine.