Why Does my Stomach Hurt?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and When to Seek Help for Your Gut
Stomach aches are common, really common, which can make it difficult for a person to know when they should seek help for their abdominal pain or any of the many related symptoms (gas, cramps, constipation, nausea, severe pain, etc). But if you start to answer yes to questions such as:
- Am I experiencing stomach aches regularly?
- Have they become so painful or frequent that they have started to interrupt my daily life?
- Have I altered my diet because certain foods trigger more pain than others?
These are indicators that it may be time to speak with your provider to understand if there is a deeper medical condition contributing to your stomach issues, if lifestyle factors such as severe stress is playing a role, and/or if changes to your diet could help resolve the pain you are experiencing today.
We’re here to normalize gut health conversations, bring attention to irritable bowel syndrome, which impacts so many Americans, and help you stay informed about what is considered an unhealthy gut.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
Many people don’t recognize IBS symptoms themselves because they feel embarrassed discussing bowel movements and gas, therefore they don’t have a sense of what is normal and healthy. In reality, IBS is nothing to be embarrassed about and is actually the most common functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder with worldwide prevalence rates ranging in the area of 10–15%. The main symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain, gas, fullness, bloating, and change in bowel habits (either diarrhea (IBS-D), or constipation (IBS-C)). Among patients, about 40% of people have mild IBS, 35% moderate IBS, and 25% severe IBS. IBS is a condition where abnormalities often don’t show up on common diagnostic tests making it tricky to diagnose right away.
How Do I Find Out If I Have IBS?
Step one is to discuss your symptoms with your primary care provider and if you are able to record your experiences in a journal, that can help. Since there is no test for IBS, a medical expert will diagnose IBS based on your symptoms and ruling out other conditions like celiac disease, colon cancer (cancer rarely causes typical IBS symptoms, unless symptoms such as weight loss, blood in the stool, or abnormal blood tests are also present) and crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. In order to rule out other conditions, your medical provider may perform the following tests:
- Blood tests to see if you have celiac disease or a low blood count (anemia)
- Stool exam for occult blood
- Stool tests to check for an infection or parasites
- Stool exam for a substance called fecal calprotectin
- A colonoscopy to check for colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, or other conditions
How Long Does IBS Last and What is the Treatment?
IBS may be a life-long condition but usually symptoms get better with treatment. Some people can control their symptoms by managing diet, lifestyle, and stress while others may need medication and counseling. IBS does not cause permanent harm to the intestines and it does not lead to a serious disease, such as cancer, however if your symptoms are disabling and interfere with work, travel, and social activities or if you notice your symptoms affecting your daily life, you should consult a medical expert.
How Does Diet Affect Gut Health?
In most cases, eating healthy food leads to a healthy gut. Your gut needs good bacteria to help digest food. By eating healthy food, you limit the bad bacteria that can attack your gut and lead to poor health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease or even depression or colon cancer. Fiber rich foods like whole grains, vegetables and fruit help regulate bacteria in the gut and the result is proper digestion. Refined sugars, artificial sweeteners and processed foods perform no favors for gut health. Eliminating refined, processed foods and increasing fruit and vegetables can help promote a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut.
Does Your Mind Have an Impact on Your Gut?
Mental health is closely linked to the health of your gut. Your intestine is connected to your brain by hormone and nerve signals that go back and forth between the bowel and the brain, affecting bowel function and symptoms. This doesn’t mean that functional gastrointestinal conditions are “all in your head”, but that psychology combines with physical factors to cause pain and other bowel symptoms.
What Do Medical Experts Consider “Normal”?
Most people experience bouts of bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation and in a healthy situation, they are short-lived symptoms that pass after 24 – 48 hours. However, if your symptoms are severe, and are present for at least 3 days a month, for a period of 3 months or more, it is time to seek a medical provider to find out what is going on with your gut health.
Set up an appointment with our primary care providers at The Health Center and trust that they will lead you in the right direction for your gut health. Health Center members can contact a Personal Health Navigator by chat through the member portal or call us at 646-819-5100 to schedule an appointment.
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