Talking about your bathroom habits with your doctor may not be the most comfortable task you have to face.  But you can take comfort in knowing that you aren’t alone.  Many women face changes in bowel habits, or have unresolved abdominal pain– and never even realize what the problem really is.  Believing they have a female or reproductive problem, many women seek out the advice of their gynecologist.  It is estimated that nearly 50% of all abdominal pain complaints seen by women’s physicians are directly related to one common problem—Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

The name may sound complex but the condition is more common than you know.  The most common gastrointestinal disorder, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects one out of every five Americans according to the National Institutes of Health. The most common symptoms include abdominal pain and tenderness, bloating, cramping and either diarrhea, constipation or both.  Occurring more often in women than men, about 50% of sufferers begin having symptoms before the age of 35.  Often embarrassed by the symptoms, many people don’t seek medical help until the problem is big enough to disrupt every day activities—like work or going out.

The cause of IBS is not really known, but some theories include being overly sensitive to stress, certain foods and maybe even inflammation caused by the immune system.  Most commonly women show symptoms in the two weeks before their period begins—or after ovulation but before the start of their period—which suggests that female hormones may play a role in the condition.  Women with IBS are more likely to have other female conditions like endometriosis, and are more likely to have a hysterectomy later in life.

Usually treated with one or a combination of common drugs, physicians aim to treat the symptoms by using medications to stop cramps, diarrhea.  He or she may also consider medications for depression or anxiety to help reduce stress levels that could be triggering flare-ups.  Despite their use, most medical studies have failed to show much benefit from their use.

If you have IBS, a trip to your doctor may help point you to relief that doesn’t need a prescription.  Long utilized for its antispasmodic properties, more natural remedies like peppermint oil supplements have shown promise in relieving cramps and those sudden rushes to the closest bathroom.  Probiotics—or supplements that help restore the natural good bacteria in the digestive tract have also been linked to more effective relief of symptoms. Others have found relief by reducing stress, hypnotherapy and regular exercise as well.

If you think you may have symptoms of IBS, Dr. Hessel would like to encourage you to make an appointment for further testing, guidance and counseling.  IBS doesn’t have to be a lifetime problem and can be treated—so you can go back to enjoying your life. So don’t wait—come in and see how much better you can feel.