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6 IBS Myths Debunked by a Gastroenterologist

Happy IBS awareness month! The goal during the month of April is to promote the diagnosis and treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and to help improve quality of life for those with IBS.

IBS can often be a misunderstood condition, so we invited Brian Lacy, PhD, MD, FACG on our podcast to provide his expert knowledge on all-things IBS. 

As a gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, Dr. Lacy brings a combination of evidence-based insights and clinical experience to the conversation.

Using the information provided by Dr. Lacy and other research-backed resources, we put together a reference on common IBS Myths and Facts just for you!

Myth #1: IBS is all in your head

While the brain does play a role in IBS symptoms, it’s important to understand that IBS is a real condition that goes beyond a single psychological cause. Years ago, many people with IBS were dismissed as being depressed or hysterical. But we now know that this is simply untrue.

According to Dr. Lacy, IBS is a “disorder of gut-brain interaction” which means “that you have lots of signals going between the gut and the brain and the brain and the gut.” A disorder in this “bidirectional pathway” of communication between the gut and brain can lead to IBS symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation.

Dr. Lacy tells us that those with IBS “may sense pain differently in their brain or react to pain differently.” The gut and brain are supposed to talk to each other, but the volume on this conversation is turned up too high. 

You can learn more about the gut-brain connection in GI conditions from our podcast episode with GI health psychologist, Dr. Megan Riehl.

Myth #2: IBS can turn into a more serious condition

When a person first gets diagnosed with IBS, they may initially be relieved to learn that they do not have a life-threatening disease. However, some people then incorrectly think that their IBS is going to inevitably lead to something more serious. 

Dr. Lacy says that a survey study found that “about 30% of people with IBS were convinced that it was going to turn to cancer” and “about 25% of people are convinced that IBS turns to IBD [or inflammatory bowel disease].” 

Thankfully, neither of these assumptions are true! Dr. Lacy says that IBS does not turn into IBD or cancer, and it does not decrease life expectancy.

These misconceptions further highlight why it’s so important to share accurate information about IBS!

Myth #3: IBS is a rare condition

Even though IBS can feel isolating, it’s actually more common than many people think.

Dr. Lacy explains that IBS “affects anywhere from about 1 in 10 to 1 in 20 adult Americans.” While anyone can have IBS, he also tells us that it’s a little more common for people in their mid-20’s to mid-40’s.

If you’re feeling alone in your struggles with IBS, we encourage you to join the GI OnDEMAND Patient Education Community and talk to your gastroenterologist about support groups offered through their practice.

Myth #4: Only women get IBS

Contrary to popular belief, men have IBS too!

According to Dr. Lacy, IBS is a little bit more common in women, but he emphasizes that the difference in rates is much smaller than most people think.

There does seem to be a difference between men and women when it comes to IBS symptoms. Men are “a little bit more likely to have IBS with diarrhea symptoms, as opposed to women [who are] a little bit more likely to have IBS with constipation symptoms”, says Dr. Lacy.

Myth #5: There is a simple test for IBS

There is no single test for IBS at this time. 

Dr. Lacy explains that physicians use the Rome IV criteria to diagnose IBS. “We ask about those classic symptoms”, says Dr. Lacy, which include abdominal pain and bloating. They will also ask about disordered bowel habits such as diarrhea, constipation, or a combination of both. 

Dr. Lacy tells us that in addition to taking a detailed history and performing a physical exam, physicians will also look for warning signs of serious conditions in order to rule them out.

Myth #6: There is no treatment for IBS

There are actually a variety of evidence-based treatment options available for those with IBS!

Dr. Lacy is the first author on the latest ACG Clinical Guideline for the Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The guideline provides a review of the available treatments for IBS and serves as a tool for physicians and gastroenterologists.

It’s important to work with your healthcare provider on a comprehensive treatment plan for your IBS. Dr. Lacy suggests including lifestyle changes in this plan that cover diet, exercise, sleep, and stress reduction. He also recommends working with a registered dietitian on dietary changes for IBS symptom management.

Once you have a treatment plan in place, IBS can feel much more manageable!

April 2021 Book of the Month

If you still have questions about IBS treatment for yourself or a loved one, we encourage you to check out our Gastro Girl Book Club’s April 2021 Book of the Month: Making Sense of IBS: A Physician Answers Your Questions about Irritable Bowel Syndrome by Dr. Brian Lacy.

Resources:

  1. IFFGD: IBS Awareness Month
  2. 2021 IBS awareness month tool kit
  3. Gastro Girl Podcast: What You Need to Know About IBS
  4. GI OnDEMAND Patient Education Community
  5. ACG Clinical Guideline: Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  6. Gastro Girl Book Club: April 2021 Book of the Month
  7. Gastro Girl Blog: Bowel Movements: What’s ‘Normal’? Study Confirms Frequency, Suggests Differences Between Men and Women
  8. Gastro Girl Blog: Rome IV Aims to Improve Outcomes for Patients with Functional GI Disorders like IBS
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