THURSDAY, July 5 (HealthDay News) -- As many as one in five Americans has to deal each day with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, a digestive disorder for which treatment options remain limited.
"Treatment is challenging because we have only one approved drug from the FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] right now," explained Dr. Satish Rao, director of the Digestive Health Center at Georgia Health Sciences University and Health System.
But there's good news, too, he said, because non-drug ways do exist to help control symptoms and several new drugs are in the pipeline. And though IBS, as it's called, can significantly affect people's quality of life, Rao said it doesn't damage the bowels and "nobody dies from IBS."
The most common symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain or discomfort and altered bowel function, according to Rao.
Dr. William Sandborn, chief of gastroenterology at the University of California San Diego Health System, explained that IBS "is more of a problem in the muscles and the nerves of the bowel."
"If you have problems with the bowel contracting too much, you'll have cramping and diarrhea," he said. "If the bowel doesn't contract enough, the contents of the bowel won't move forward sufficiently, and you'll have constipation."
If you have diarrhea associated with abdominal symptoms, doctors will refer to your disorder as diarrhea-predominant IBS. If constipation is more of an issue, you have constipation-predominant IBS. Those who experience both diarrhea and constipation have what's called mixed IBS.
Exactly what causes IBS remains a mystery -- or what Rao called "the million dollar question."
"We have unearthed some factors," Rao said. "It looks like people with certain genes are predisposed to IBS, and environmental factors play a role. Changes in the gut flora [the types of bacteria in the intestine] may predispose you
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