Stomach pains can hit you at any moment; unfortunately, it usually happens when you least expect it. Whether your stomach pains are caused by food poisoning, irritable bowel syndrome, or just regular stomach aches, it is inconvenient and often embarrassing.
But it is important to understand the cause of your stomach pains; having an upset tummy, though inconvenient, is curable and not long-term. On the other hand, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition that, while not curable, is treatable through the management of symptoms.
Irritable bowel syndrome, commonly referred to as IBS, is a gastrointestinal disorder that is relatively common, affecting 6-18% of people worldwide . Although IBS comprises a variety of symptoms that affect the gastrointestinal tract, a recent study conducted in 2022 found that it does not increase your risk of gastrointestinal cancer .
IBS is a functional gastrointestinal disorder or a disorder of the gut-brain interaction. This means there is a problem with how the gut and brain work together, causing the gastrointestinal tract to be highly sensitive, thus affecting the contraction of the bowel muscle, resulting in bloating, constipation, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea.
The main cause of IBS is still unknown and poorly misunderstood. However, several factors have been linked to the development of IBS. These are:
IBS has many symptoms, but it varies from person to person. These symptoms include:
These symptoms come and go for varying durations. For example, bloating or gas tends to disappear after a bowel movement. Therefore, IBS is often misdiagnosed as other conditions, such as an upset tummy or even lactose intolerance.
While they may have some similar symptoms, there are a few clear-cut ways to tell if you have IBS or just an upset tummy.
|Irritable bowel syndrome||Upset tummy|
|It happens frequently and with greater severity.||It occurs rarely, and symptoms are not as severe.|
|Pain does not wake you up at night.||Pain is more severe at night and can wake you up, especially in cases of food poisoning.|
|Pain may affect the whole gastrointestinal tract.||Pain is generalised.|
|Symptoms usually include constipation, diarrhoea, or both, and lower abdominal pain.||Symptoms usually include nausea, vomiting, and upper abdominal pain.|
|The intestinal lining appears normal.||The intestinal lining is inflamed.|
|There are no known causes, but they have been linked to several factors.||It is known to be caused by various bacteria, viruses, food, medication, etc.|
If you suspect that you might be experiencing IBS, you should consult with a gastroenterologist who will help you manage your symptoms. IBS is diagnosed if you fulfil the following criteria:
The following diagnostic tests can be conducted if IBS is suspected:
The best treatment for IBS depends on what works for you; IBS treatment for you may be different from IBS treatment for someone else. Here are some treatment options that you may try to help yourself with IBS:
Your gastroenterologist can prescribe several medications:
The first line of treatment for IBS would be remedies you can try at home, such as lifestyle changes. However, if severe symptoms persist, medications can be prescribed to help manage them.
In conclusion, IBS is very different from an upset tummy. IBS is a chronic, incurable condition, while an upset stomach is an acute, curable condition. There are no known causes of IBS, but several causes of an upset tummy, such as gastroenteritis, food poisoning, etc.
So, next time you have any stomach pains, remember when it happens, how frequently it happens, and what the symptoms are. If it happens again within the next few days, weeks, or months, you could be developing IBS.
If you suspect you have IBS, book an appointment with us today, and we can help you manage your symptoms.