Is It IBS or an Upset Stomach?

My daughter’s soccer team was at a tournament last weekend. They had to play two games on Saturday and by the time the second game was over, everyone, including the parents, was starving. We needed a restaurant that was loud enough to tolerate our kids, had televisions and beer for the dads and had a wide enough selection of food that everyone could be happy. Answer: Pub food. Every appetizer is fried, French fries are listed as a vegetable and there is a different sporting event on every television.

As I searched the menu for something that I could eat that was under 800 calories, I listened to the other moms talking. The goalie's mom, Mary, remarked that she wanted to order a hamburger, but every time she ate one she “ended up with terrible stomach pain for the rest of the night.” I travel to a lot of soccer tournaments with these parents, so they know that I write lots of articles about women’s gastrointestinal issues. Consequently, everyone immediately looked to me to see if I agreed with Mary. I didn’t want to sound like a know-it-all, so I mumbled something about it being wise not to order any food that you know will make you feel bad later and left it at that. What I plan to tell Mary, in private, the next time I see her is this:

  1. IBS is a chronic condition. You don’t simply “get” it when you eat a hamburger. Symptoms can be continuous or vary over months or even years.
  2. You should never attempt to self-diagnose IBS. Make an appointment with a gastroenterologist.

Everyone has certain foods that make them feel sick to their stomach. Greasy and fried foods make the majority of Americans feel lousy after eating them. Mary probably ate a burger one night, and while she was feeling bad, entered her symptoms into a Google search and got a ton of information about IBS (only a small percentage of which was accurate).

Here is the truth:

It is estimated that 25-45 million Americans, generally 18-35 years old, are suffering with IBS. IBS is characterized by an overly sensitive colon or large intestine, and is always associated with abdominal pain (your abdomen is below your chest and above your hips). Gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and nausea are all typical symptoms. However, that set of symptoms is present in many gastrointestinal disorders including:

  1. Celiac disease: the inability to digest gluten (wheat).
  2. Lactose intolerance: the inability to digest the sugar in milk.
  3. Sucrose intolerance: the inability to digest sugar and starch.
  4. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease: serious diseases involving chronic inflammation of the digestive tract.
  5. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO): occurs when significant amounts of colonic bacteria (bacteria that’s generally found in the colon) move into the small intestine.

It is essential that Mary make an appointment with a gastroenterologist to rule out these or other gastrointestinal disorders. Once her doctor has eliminated the other possible causes of her abdominal pain, he may consider whether Mary could have IBS. If the gastroenterologist determines that she does have IBS, they will work together to determine whether Mary has any trigger foods.

He might also tell her to begin taking probiotics. Probiotics have been shown to be an effective therapy for treating IBS. To manage her symptoms now, I’m going to suggest that Mary try IBS/W. It is an over-the-counter supplement designed especially for women’s IBS symptoms. Many women I have talked to say that IBS/W has been very effective in managing the abdominal pain, bloating, gas and nausea that they experience.

We have another soccer game tomorrow morning. I’m going to find Mary at halftime and suggest that she make an appointment with her gastroenterologist.  Gastrointestinal issues should be taken seriously. She may not have IBS, but she is obviously experiencing a lot of discomfort. It is draining both physically and mentally to be constantly battling your digestive system. Between work, carpools, laundry and cheering at soccer games, women don’t have any extra energy to spare for IBS.