There are many symptoms and diseases that can be tested for and diagnosed, followed by treatment and recovery. This is the world that we hope for, where every question has an answer and for every symptom there is a pill. The reality, however, is that there are some diseases that we cannot yet explain and can only be diagnosed by excluding everything else. In this realm is where we find those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
We know about the symptoms, which include abdominal pain, gas and bloating among others. We have a pretty good idea what causes those symptoms. Those with IBS have gastrointestinal contractions that are irregular compared to others, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter. This, along with other irregularities like the build-up of serotonin in the intestines, makes for a confounding group of frustrating symptoms that can greatly affect someone’s quality of life.
To make matters more confusing, not even IBS can keep all of its symptoms straight. A study published in 2016 in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics lists four subtypes of IBS, broken down by those that generally cause only diarrhea (IBS-D), those that cause only constipation (IBS-C), those that cause both (IBS-M), and a fourth group that no one can seem to figure out (IBS-U).
Thankfully, medical science is constantly pushing forward at a faster rate, and new findings on IBS seem to appear with great frequency. More often than not, this newer research is able to produce more information than answers, but with each new piece of information, we get a step closer to answers.
Recent research undertaken by the Karolinska Institutet has provided some information that may be a ray of hope for IBS sufferers. Following up on research that had previously shown a genetic component to IBS, the researchers were able to use this previously-acquired knowledge to show a link between family members by way of a defect in their ability to digest certain carbohydrates. In other words, information led to more information, which may have led to an answer.
It is fairly understood by those that have and those that study IBS that certain foods trigger symptoms more than others, and avoiding those triggers can often lead to a certain amount of relief. However, not all triggers are voluntary, as high stress and hormonal changes also play a part in the symptoms. It is rather common for those with IBS to simultaneously suffer from mental health symptoms such as depression and anxiety, but the difficulty is in knowing what came first: Is the depression a symptom of IBS, or is IBS a symptom of depression?
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to that question, at least not yet. The simple fact is that the two often work alongside each other, and are generally treated together. While it may seem trivial to understand which is the cause and which is the symptom, the value of potentially having this knowledge all comes back to information. The more information, the closer we get to the right answers.