Advances in IBS treatment offer hope

Health

What was once a poorly understood medical condition has now become more readily recognized, diagnosed and treated thanks to recent research in the field of digestive health.
Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, was once a perplexing condition to diagnose and treat. Millions of people with IBS experience painful, annoying or embarrassing symptoms such as abdominal cramping, diarrhea, constipation, excess gas and bloating.
In recent years, however, researchers and clinicians have honed in on this disorder to better understand its implications, epidemiology and burden on the afflicted. Considering that 10 to 15 percent of Americans are living with IBS, any hope for new treatments and management techniques is welcome news.
“IBS is a very real condition that can seriously impact people’s lives, so the development of new and effective treatment options is extremely important,” says Dr. Christopher Bach, a gastroenterologist and medical director of the Tidelands Health digestive health program. “IBS sufferers often lose time at work or deal with persistent disruptions while trying to enjoy everyday life. Any new advances in the treatment of IBS can result in a profound and significant impact on the quality of life for millions of sufferers.”

Exact cause remains unknown

Medical researchers don’t know what causes IBS, but they are exploring a number of potential links, including the possibility people with IBS have hypersensitive intestinal digestive tracts and are simply unable to metabolize certain types of carbohydrates because they have reduced levels of a gut bacteria that breaks down certain dietary fibers.
Researchers at the Örebro University in Sweden are conducting a study to determine whether butyric acid can be used as a treatment option. Some studies have suggested that butyric acid in higher concentrations in the intestines may aid in curbing inflammation and boosting intestinal bacterial functions.

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Since food often is a prime trigger of IBS symptoms, patients may be asked to follow a diet devoid of certain carbohydrates like fructose, lactose, certain grains and dairy products. Called the FODMAP diet (fermentable oligo-, di- and monosaccharides and polyols), this approach has proven beneficial for some IBS sufferers, but does not always work for everyone.

Biomarker sought

While nutritional therapies are showing some promise, researchers are seeking to find a tool or biomarker that could help clinicians identify IBS more easily and readily so more efficient treatment options can be developed to treat the disorder.
There is no single medication that’s designed specifically for IBS, but there are a number of approved medications that physicians use to treat symptoms such as diarrhea and constipation. Muscle relaxants, laxatives, antibiotics and low-dose antidepressants might also be used as part of a treatment plan.

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Dr. Bach says the continued evolution in treatment for IBS make it important for suffers to make sure they have an open and continued line of communication with care providers.
“If you’ve suffered with IBS symptoms for a number of years and have lost hope in finding a treatment that works for you, it may be worthwhile while to reassess your IBS symptoms with your physician and discuss other treatment options that may help bring you relief,” Dr. Bach says. “We have a variety of weapons in our arsenal to treat IBS. Finding the best approach for any individual starts with a dialogue between you and your physician. A multipronged approach may just be what’s needed to produce a significant improvement in the management of the disorder.”

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