listen to your gut during irritable bowel syndrome month

Courtney Takabayashi
April 23, 2024

It can be uncomfortable. It can be disruptive. It can be embarrassing. It’s irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. While the American College for Gastroenterology estimates that it affects 10%-15% of adults in the U.S., many people remain undiagnosed because they don’t realize they have this disorder. In observance of Irritable Bowel Syndrome Month, we talked to gastroenterologist and HMSA medical director, Kristi Lopez, M.D., about symptoms, risk factors, and ways to destigmatize IBS.

Q&A with Kristi Lopez, M.D.

What is irritable bowel syndrome and what are some common symptoms?
Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic disorder of the intestine that is characterized by abdominal pain/belly pain, cramping, gas, bloating or swelling of the belly, change in stools (diarrhea or constipation or a mix of both).

What’s the difference between IBS and just a sore stomach? 
A sore stomach is usually something that’s of short duration, while IBS is a chronic condition with symptoms that meets certain diagnostic criteria. Usually, a sore stomach resolves by itself and might be due to something that you ate or drank. Symptoms are usually less severe and don’t recur. Typically, symptoms of a sore stomach include nausea, vomiting, and upper abdominal pain versus IBS, which is usually located more in the lower abdominal area.

What are risk factors for developing IBS?
According to research by Mayo Clinic, many people have occasional symptoms of IBS. You may be more likely to have IBS if you’re young, female, have a family history of IBS (since genes may play a role as well as shared environmental factors), or have a history of anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, including abuse. Additional associated factors include smoking and alcohol use, as well as having physical and psychological stressors.

If someone thinks they have IBS, what should they do?
Don't hesitate to talk to a health care provider. Sometimes people wait too long and suffer unnecessarily. First, I would recommend talking with your primary care provider. Keep a detailed record of your symptoms, food and drinks, or activities that might trigger your symptoms, and share them with your primary care provider. If they feel that further testing is warranted, they may refer you to a gastroenterologist, someone like me who specializes in the gastrointestinal tract.

Seeing a gastroenterologist can be helpful.

What are some ways we can destigmatize IBS?
One way would be to empower patients to learn more about their disease process, manage their symptoms, and have a greater sense of control over their disease. 

Raising awareness about the disease will lead to better patient understanding and advocacy. 

What are some approaches to treating IBS?
Treatment of IBS focuses on helping to relieve symptoms. While symptoms may not completely go away, our goal is to help patients live as symptom free as possible.

For mild IBS symptoms, we usually treat with dietary and lifestyle modifications. Typically, I recommend a low FODMAP diet, exercising regularly (if you‘re moving, your gut is moving), and getting quality sleep and drink at least 64 oz. of water (so many people are walking around dehydrated)!

For moderate to severe IBS symptoms, in addition to lifestyle modifications, we use medications to treat bowel movement issues and the pain. Your gastroenterology provider will prescribe medications in doses specifically for you.

I’ve heard about integrated care as a way to treat IBS. What exactly is integrated care?
Integrated care is an approach to health care that involves collaboration and communication among health professionals including primary providers, allopathic medicine providers, functional medicine providers, complementary alternative medicine providers, dietitians, nutritionists, and physical therapists. I personally refer my IBS patients to pelvic floor physical therapy, nutrition/dietary services, functional medicine specialists, and exercise/trainers for complete therapeutic options.

Integrative medicine and other resources could be covered benefits for members. I recommend that HMSA members review their Guide to Benefits to see what their specific coverage includes. 

Share this article

By commenting, you agree to Island Scene's Terms of Use.