I’ve decided to start my blog with complete disclosure—I have been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Before diagnosis, I had all the classic symptoms: gas, bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, alternating constipation and diarrhea. It was irritating to say the least. The first time I sought help for these complaints, after a ream of tests, my doctor finally diagnosed me with IBS. However, my relief at finally having a diagnosis was short-lived because my doctor then indicated there was not much that he could do for IBS, except offer palliative treatments for the symptoms, such as laxatives and anti-diarrheal agents. I was exasperated. I had spent so much money and run so many tests, only to hear my doctor telling me exactly what I told him when I entered his office for the first time—I had an Irritable Bowel! Now, did I just have to learn to live with IBS?
That was many years ago, long before I attended naturopathic medical school and learned more about functional bowel disorders like IBS. Looking back, I now understand that it was important for the doctor to rule out other more dangerous causes of my complaints, since an irritable bowel can be symptomatic of other disorders, but I wish he had known about less-expensive and less-invasive testing options.
The standard of care for diagnosing IBS utilizes something called the Rome III Criteria, which is a list of symptoms with specific timelines. And, though the use of the Rome III Criteria may now save many sufferers of IBS from invasive procedures, such as colonoscopy or intestinal biopsies, it does not allow for any advances in treatment options, other than symptomatic ones. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is often still considered a ‘diagnosis of exclusion,’ which means that doctors spend a great deal of time and money ruling out specific biomedical pathologies, such as Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. If you don’t have any of these pathologies, then it must be IBS. But IBS should not be a diagnosis of exclusion. There usually is an underlying cause; but finding that underlying cause depends on looking for it with the correct lens.
One of the most important things I learned in medical school was to look for the root cause of disease, instead of merely treating symptoms. I think this principle is incredibly important with regards to IBS. There are many possible causes of the symptoms that are collectively called Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Each individual might have similar symptoms but a different underlying cause.
I am excited to be writing a blog series that will explain many of these possible underlying causes. We will go in depth exploring the impact of dysbiosis, food sensitivities, parasitic infections, celiac disease, and pancreatic insufficiency on gut health, to just name a few. And, we will talk about how to diagnose each of these underlying causes and the options for treatment to actually eliminate the symptoms of IBS. As a previous patient, and a current physician, I am thrilled to be able to share my experience and my expertise with you all. Stay tuned!
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