Stop Your Bellyaching

Your sensitive stomach could actually be IBS. Here's how to know.

Think you're cursed with a sensitive stomach? You might actually have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that affects up to 20 percent of people -- mostly women ages 20 to 45. We asked William D. Chey, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, to help demystify the problem.

    How would someone know she has IBS?

    You might not realize it, because the symptoms can be easy to ignore if you have a mild case. Some people think they have to put up with it. In fact, of all the people who have symptoms of IBS -- bloating, stomach pain, chronic diarrhea, constipation, or a combination of both -- less than 25 percent will see their doctor. And even if you do seek help, some doctors don't take it seriously. If yours is dismissive, find a new one.

      What causes it?

      There's no test for IBS, so no one is sure. In some cases, it may be due to abnormal colon contractions -- when they're too fast, you get cramps and diarrhea; too slow and you get constipated. Since so many women have it, there could be a hormonal link; the symptoms are often worse during menstruation.

        Is IBS manageable?

        Yes, with diet and lifestyle changes, medication, or both. IBS isn't deadly, and it won't lead to cancer or Crohn's disease (a common fear). Often, having IBS is a quality-of-life issue -- people may be scared to leave home -- so it should be treated.

          Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the September 2007 issue of Parents magazine.

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