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Abdominal Cramps and Diarrhea (IBS)

Q: I've been suffering from bouts of abdominal cramps and diarrhea for as long as I can remember, but recently my symptoms have gotten much worse. Now it seems as though every time I have the urge to go I can barely make it to the toilet in time, and I'm almost afraid to leave the house for fear of being too far from the bathroom. I'm worried. Could this be serious?

Dr. Donnica:
It is time for you to consult a gastroenterologist. While your symptoms could be caused by a wide range of problems, they sound like classic symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS. IBS is an often misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and under-treated condition that affects up 1 in 5 Americans. IBS is one of the most common functional GI disorders, accounting for more than 3 million annual physician visits. IBS is much more common in women than men. IBS may present with diarrhea, constipation, or a combination of both along with abdominal discomfort or pain and bloating. The diagnosis of IBS is made by first ruling out other causes of these symptoms.

The symptoms that support the diagnosis of IBS include having:

  • Abnormal stool frequency (more than 3 bowel movements per day or less than 3 bowel movements per week)
  • Abnormal stool form
  • Abnormal stool passage (straining, urgency, or feeling of incomplete evacuation)
  • Passage of rectal mucus
  • Abdominal bloating or feeling of abdominal distension

The cause of IBS is unknown. We do know that there are triggers for IBS symptoms, which include intestinal gas or pressure, certain foods (like chocolate or milk), alcohol, medications (antibiotics, laxatives and some antidiarrheal medications), other illnesses, or stressful situations. While there is no cure for IBS, your doctor can help you develop a comprehensive management strategy. For more information, visit www.ibsgroup.org or www.aboutibs.org.

Created: 11/7/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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