What is IBS?

This is a brand-new blog. If you're reading this, I'm going to assume that you have some interest in the gut-brain connection and the role of psychology in digestive disorders. So, to help introduce you to the fascinating world of Gut-Brain Psychology, I'm preparing a few posts that offer basic information about IBS and the gut-brain connection. Here's the first!

Today, I'm going to start by giving you some basic definitions and facts about IBS.

What is IBS?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is an aptly named gastrointestinal disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It's a chronic condition that causes recurring episodes of abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits (constipation, diarrhea, or both). Other common IBS symptoms are gas, bloating, and fatigue. Symptoms need to be happening for at least 1 day a week for several months before a diagnosis is assigned.

IBS can vary in severity. For some people, it is an occasional annoyance, and for others, it can be cruel and debilitating, impacting relationships and the ability to work, travel, and participate in life!

Diagnosing IBS

Despite being a common condition, IBS can be hard to diagnose, and many people suffer for years before getting an accurate diagnosis.

Diagnosing is challenging because there's no specific test that can confirm the condition. Instead, doctors use a combination of diagnostic criteria, medical history, and physical examination to diagnose IBS. They may also perform additional tests, such as stool tests, blood tests, or colonoscopies, to make sure the symptoms aren't associated with another disease. Ruling out other conditions is a critical part of diagnosing IBS, and I'll dive deeper into this in my next post.

What causes IBS?

The exact causes of IBS aren't fully understood. It's considered a biopsychosocial condition.

I want to avoid unnecessary jargon, but biopsychosocial is a great term because it means exactly what it seems to mean. Biological, psychological, and social (or environmental) factors can all interact to make a person more likely to develop IBS.

  • Biological: IBS seems to run in families, so it may have a genetic component. It also can be triggered by an infection such as food poisoning or gastroenteritis.
  • Psychological: Certain personality traits may be risk factors for IBS. These include perfectionism and a tendency to worry.
  • Social/Environmental: Stress, lifestyle factors, social support, and a history of trauma all may be factors in developing IBS symptoms.

IBS is a Disorder of Gut-Brain Interaction (DGBI)

Once it's triggered by some biopsychosocial factor, it's often maintained by a communication breakdown between the gut and the brain, which results in the brain interpreting normal gut sensations and normal gut functioning as dangerous.

That's why gut-brain therapies can be so helpful for people suffering from IBS. These therapies target gut-brain communication directly! I'll have so much more to share about these promising therapies in future posts!

How Common is IBS?

The prevalence of IBS varies by region and population, but I've seen estimates of prevalence ranging from 12% to 20% of the global population. Think about that! That's over a billion people!!!

When I first learned these stats, I was floored. For comparison, I looked up the worldwide prevalence of asthma and diabetes. Each is about 10%. So, IBS is more common than either of those conditions. It's even more common than having blue eyes!!!

Holy Shit! 

Back to the facts: Women are more likely to be diagnosed with IBS than men, and the condition is most commonly diagnosed in people under the age of 50 but can develop at any age.

IBS Stigma

It drives me nuts that there's so much stigma surrounding IBS because it's completely unwarranted, and the shame, worry, and isolation that can result from stigma can actually worsen symptoms!

No one asks for IBS, or for their gut-brain communication to get funky. No one wants pain, or for their lives to revolve around pooping. IBS is not a made-up condition, it's not "all in your head", and the bottom line is that everyone experiences digestive problems at some time in their life. There is no reason for any stigma!

The purpose of IBS Awareness Month is to raise consciousness and destigmatize IBS. You can learn more about it here.

Once again, this is a new blog. These first few introductory posts are designed to provide basic background information. Over the course of time, my goal is to create a blog that provides you with support, tips, and useful information based on the latest science and my professional and personal experience. So, for that, I need your input.

Feel free to reach out or comment if you have any specific questions or topics you'd like me to address.

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