Ask the Doctor

July 09, 2018
Ask the Doctor

According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, there are between 2.4 and 3.5 million annual physician visits for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in the United States. St. Mary’s Chief Medical Officer and family medicine physician J. Michael Pontious, MD, has helped many patients with this disorder in his 33 years of practice. Here he provides some insights.

Q. What is IBS and what are the symptoms?

IBS is a disorder affecting the large intestine, which can cause abdominal pain and other problems. A telltale sign of IBS is going back and forth between constipation and diarrhea. Symptoms can be triggered by different factors, including diet, lifestyle and stress. If people don’t control the stressors, IBS can cause chronic symptoms.

Q. How can this disorder be managed?

The first step is to figure out what is setting it off. If diet is a factor, controlling IBS may involve modifications such as increasing fiber, or staying away from food triggers like high-fat or spicy foods. If stress is contributing, it’s important to address the cause. In some cases, medication can help with gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms.

Q. Could IBS lead to colorectal cancer?

This is a common concern, but it’s important for patients to know that IBS does not increase the risk of colorectal cancer. With that said, there can be certain GI symptoms that may be related to other more serious diagnoses. For example, persistent nausea, vomiting or bleeding may be signs of a different problem, and should be assessed by a gastroenterologist.

Q. What should I do if I have concerns?

Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and what may be causing them. Often, patients with IBS suffer with anxiety, and it’s important not to ignore this. It takes a conscious effort to manage IBS, but by controlling the triggers, people can live with this disorder.