IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome): Key Q&A

Do the symptoms of IBS wake you up at night?
Not usually. Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome almost always occur while you are awake. It is rare for symptoms such as diarrhea or abdominal pain to wake women with IBS from sleep. When such symptoms do rouse you, they may indicate the presence of other medical problems.

Can any one test confirm the diagnosis of IBS?
No. There is no specific diagnostic test used to identify irritable bowel syndrome. Instead, tests may be used to rule out other conditions as the cause of your symptoms. These may include lactose intolerance, infection, diverticulosis, thyroid disorders, inflammatory bowel diseases and cancer. Tests may be selected based on your symptoms and the likelihood of other causes of symptoms, as well as the cost and safety of each test. Commonly performed tests include blood and fecal tests, lactose intolerance tests, endoscopy and various forms of X-ray.

Can IBS be cured?
IBS is usually considered curable. However, the natural history of IBS is usually variable and worse with stress or certain diets. Diarrhea-predominant IBS tends to be less severe with age.

Are any medications useful in the treatment of IBS?
Yes. A variety of medications are available to treat the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Consult your doctor before using any drug, including over-the-counter medication, since it may interfere with current medicines or may have serious side effects. Some medications may not be effective for all people with IBS. As a general rule, medications are used if IBS symptoms do not respond to dietary changes and/or stress management, and they are most often used for moderate to severe IBS symptoms. Medications that may be particularly useful for women with IBS include antispasmodics, antidepressants, tranquilizers, antidiarrheals, fiber supplements and certain IBS-specific drugs.

Are there any surgeries available for IBS?
No. Surgery does not cure irritable bowel syndrome. You should obtain a second opinion before considering any type of surgery. Studies have shown that individuals with IBS sometimes undergo the unnecessary removal of their gallbladder and appendix, as well as hysterectomy and back surgery, with no permanent relief of their IBS symptoms.

Reviewed by David Friedel, M.D., AGA

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