Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of many disorders of the coordination between the brain and the gut.
These so-called “functional GI disorders” (including rumination syndrome, functional dyspepsia, functional abdominal pain, functional constipation) are caused by dysregulation of the enteric nervous system, the highly-complex set of nerves that regulates swallowing, digestion, and defecation. Due to a perceived hypersensitivity of the nerves in a subset of the population, some people will experience distressing GI-related symptoms even when the GI tract is “functioning” appropriately without organic disease. With IBS, patients often experience the sudden urge to defecate, usually during or soon after meals. They may or may not be able to pass stools despite this urge. IBS can be diarrhea predominant, constipation predominant, or a combined type.
In IBS and other functional GI disorders, bloodwork, imaging, and/or procedures usually does not reveal an abnormality. However, it is important to note that the pain and symptoms experienced with these disorders are very real and often debilitating. Patients with these disorders should be evaluated by a physician to rule out organic diseases that may be causing their symptoms. Of course, even those with organic disease may also have overlying functional disorders.
It is important to speak with a gastroenterologist to achieve the appropriate diagnosis and come up with a treatment regimen which may include medications, dietary modifications, and specific age-appropriate counseling techniques to help modulate the pain response.