Irritable Bowel Syndrome
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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most commonly diagnosed gastrointestinal condition in the
United States (U.S.) It is a gastrointestinal syndrome characterized by chronic altered bowel
habits and abdominal discomfort or pain (in the absence of a known organic cause). Prevalence
of IBS in North America estimated is approximately 10 -15%. Younger patients and women are
more likely to be diagnosed with IBS. A systematic review estimated that there is an overall 2:1
female predominance in North America.Only about 15% of those affected seek medical attention,
yet IBS still constitutes 25-50% of all gastroenterologist referralsand is the highest cause of work
absenteeism after upper respiratory infections (colds). Patients with IBS have more frequent
medical visits, have more diagnostic tests, are prescribed more medications, miss more workdays,
have lower work productivity, are hospitalized more often, and consume more overall direct costs
than patients without IBS. Resource utilization is highest in patients with severe symptoms, and
poor health-related quality of life (HRQOL). Some studies suggest annual direct/indirect costs of
up to $30 billion.The pathophysiology and cause of IBS is incompletely understood.
Subjective Findings and History
• Abdominal discomfort or pain with altered bowel habits (constipation, diarrhea, or
alternating constipation and diarrhea) that is accompanied by at least two of the
following: relief by defecation, change in frequency of stool, or change in consistency of
• Abdominal pain severity, location, and character can vary. Symptoms are often triggered
by food, particularly fats, or by stress.
• Other upper gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms may occur, which include, mucous discharge
with stools, bloating, feeling of incomplete evacuation, straining, post-prandial urgency,
gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), dysphagia, early satiety, intermittent dyspepsia, nausea,
non-cardiac chest pain, abdominal bloating, and increased gas production in the form of
flatulence or belching, abnormal stool frequency (≤3 bowel movements per week or >3
bowel movements per day), and abnormal stool form (lumpy/hard or loose/watery)
• Frequent non-GI symptoms: sexual function, dysmenorrhea, dyspareunia, increased
urinary frequency and urgency, and fibromyalgia symptoms
• A subgroup of patients have history of acute viral or bacterial gastroenteritis, which then
leads to a subsequent disorder characteristic of diarrhea-predominant IBS (post-infectious
Diagnosis and Differential Diagnosis
Symptom based criteria are used as a standard diagnostic tool. Often both are used together.
The Manning Criteria was developed in 1978 and is a formulation of a symptom complex
associated with IBS. The predictive ability of this criteria is conflicting. Manning criteria for the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome*
• Sensation of incomplete evacuation • Pain relieved with defecation • More frequent stools at the onset of pain • Looser stools at the onset of pain • Visible abdominal distention • Passage of mucus
The Rome Criteria is a consensus definition that was created in 1992 and revised in 2005 in order
to standardize clinical research protocols.,
Recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort at least 3 days per month in the last 3 months associated
• Improvement with defecation • Onset associated with a change in frequency of stool • Onset associated with a change in form (appearance) of stool
The American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) recommends that the diagnosis of IBS
should be based upon: “the identification of positive symptoms consistent with the condition as
summarized by the Rome criteria and excluding in a cost-effective manner other conditions with
similar clinical presentations”.
Objective Findings and Assessment
Patients generally appear to be healthy. Physical Exam
Abdominal tenderness may be present, particularly in the left lower quadrant. A digital rectal
examination (DRE), including a test for occult blood, should be done on all patients. In women, a
pelvic examination helps rule out ovarian tumors and cysts or endometriosis, which may mimic
The main goal of evaluation is to rule out organic disease.
Routine laboratory studies (complete blood count (CBC), blood chemistries, thyroid, ESR, Ca) are
normal in IBS. They are not recommended unless warranted by other symptoms. A more
extensive evaluation should be considered in patients who have had a change or progression of
symptoms, do not respond to general treatment measures, or have “alarm” symptoms.
"Alarm" or atypical symptoms, which are not compatible with IBS, include: Rectal bleeding,
nocturnal or progressive abdominal pain, fever(s), weight loss, laboratory abnormalities such as
anemia, elevated inflammatory markers, or electrolyte disturbances. Patients with these
symptoms should be considered for additional testing.
• In those with diarrhea as predominant symptom:
o Stool cultures – only to rule out Giardia
if suspected exposure o Celiac disease screening – with serum IgA antibody to tissue transglutaminase
o Twenty-four hour stool collection – A twenty-four hour stool collection should be
considered if osmotic or secretory diarrhea or malabsorption is suspected
o Colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy and biopsy – Many causes of chronic
diarrhea such as microscopic colitis require endoscopic evaluation.
• In those with constipation as predominant symptom:
o Radiography – of the abdomen can detect retained stool and suggest the diagnosis
o Flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy – Sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy should
be performed if a structural lesion is suspected. Colonoscopy is preferred in
patients who are older than 50 because of the increased risk of colon cancer in this
• Mixed IBS – In patients with both diarrhea and constipation, screening should be
performed base on medical history and other symptoms reported.
• Lactose breath testing can be considered when lactose maldigestion remains a concern
• Psychosocial Factors: Assess mental health history and symptom and because of the
positive correlation between abuse and certain GI illness patterns, patients with refractory
or severe IBS should be questioned about physical and sexual abuse. Some patients may
have sleep disturbance, anxiety disorders, depression, or a somatization disorder.
However, stress and emotional conflict do not always coincide with symptom onset and
Lifestyle and Dietary Modifications:
• Treatment is directed at specific symptoms. • Education about condition in order to establish appropriate therapeutic goals (e.g.,
expectations regarding the normal course or variability in symptoms, adverse effects of
drugs, the appropriate working relationship between the doctor and the patient) should
• Avoid gas-producing and diarrhea-producing foods (beans, onions, celery, carrots, raisins,
bananas, apricots, prunes, brussel sprouts, wheat germ, simple carbohydrates). Few
contemporary studies have shown carbohydrate malabsorption is a major contributor to
• Reduce portion size and implement pace eating. Those with abdominal distention and
increased flatulence may benefit from reducing or eliminating foods containing
fermentable carbohydrates (beans, cabbage). Underlying visceral hyperalgesia in IBS may
explain the exaggerated discomfort experienced with consumption of gas-producing
• Food allergies/sensitivities – The role of food allergy in IBS is unclear. While it is possible
that food allergy has a role in the development of symptoms. Various testing methods for
food allergies are available, although there is conflict about their reliability and an
elimination/challenge diet is helpful to identify change in symptoms.,
• Gluten sensitivity – Gluten sensitivity (without overt celiac disease) has been proposed as
a cause of functional bowel disorders and an elimination/challenge diet may help to
• Reduced intake of sweeteners – (e.g., sorbitol, mannitol, fructose) and ethyl alcohols,
which are constituents of natural and processed foods (e.g., apple and grape juice,
bananas, nuts, and raisins), may decrease flatulence, bloating, and diarrhea.Patients
with evidence of lactose intolerance should reduce their intake of milk and dairy products.
A lower-fat diet may reduce postprandial abdominal symptoms.
• Restricting rapidly fermentable, short-chain carbohydrates (Fermentable Oligo-, Di- and
Mono-saccharides and Polyols or FODMAPs)xv
Increased fiber intake (primarily for constipation) - Dietary fiber supplements may soften
stool and improve the ease of evacuation. A bulk-producing agent may be used
supplemented with increased fluid intake. Alternatively, psyllium (natural) with excess
water may be used. However, excessive use of fiber can lead to bloating and diarrhea, so
fiber doses must be individualized. Occasionally, flatulence may be reduced by switching
to a synthetic fiber preparation (e.g., methylcellulose).,
• Psychologic stress, anxiety, or mood disorders should be identified, evaluated, and treated. • Behavioral or mental health therapy - Cognitive-behavioral therapy, standard
psychotherapy, biofeedback, and hypnotherapyxxiiixxvimay help selected IBS
patients to help reduce anxiety levels, encourage health promoting behavior, increase
patient responsibility and involvement, and improve pain tolerance.
• Relaxation techniques (yoga, meditation, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation,
• Regular physical activity helps relieve stress and assists in bowel function, particularly in
• Multi-component therapy incorporates elements of education, relaxation therapy,
biofeedback, and cognitive therapy or psychotherapy. Several studies have been done with
Supplementation or Nutraceuticals
• Preliminary data suggest that certain pre/probiotics (e.g., Bifidobacterium infantis
improve IBS symptoms, particularly bloating.xxxi,xl
• Some aromatic oils (carminatives) can relax smooth muscle and relieve pain caused by
cramps in some patients. Peppermint oil, ginger, and fennel are the most commonly used
agents in this class, but peppermint can also exacerbate GERD
• Curcuma species (Turmeric), Cynara scolymus (artichoke leaf), Fumaria officinalis,
Hypericum perforatum (St John’s wort), Maranta arundinacea (Arrowroot), Mentha ×
piperita (peppermint oil), Plantago psyllium
• Chinese herbs (Tong xie yao fang (TXYF), STW 5 and STW 5–II) ,xlvii
• Carmint (an Iranian herbal medicine containing total extracts of Melissa officinalis,
Mentha spicata, and Coriandrum sativum)xlv
• A Tibetan herbal digestive formula known as Padma Lax • STW 5 (Iberogast) • C-IBS and DA-IBS formulations • Gwakhyangjeonggisan (GJS)
Drug therapy is directed toward the dominant symptoms. The chronic use of prescription
• Anticholinergic/antispasmodic drugs (e.g., hyoscyamine, cimetropium, pinaverium
) may be
• Prokinetic and prosecretory agents• Bile acid modulators • Chloride channel activator lubiprostone may help patients with constipation. • In patients with diarrhea, anti-diarrheals, such as oral diphenoxylate or loperamide may
be given before meals. The dose of loperamide should be titrated upward to reduce
• For many patients, tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) help relieve symptoms of diarrhea,
abdominal pain, and bloating. These drugs are thought to reduce pain by down-regulating
the activity of spinal cord and cortical afferent pathways arriving from the intestine.
• Secondary amine TCAs (e.g., nortriptyline, desipramine) are often better tolerated than
parent tertiary amines (e.g., amitriptyline, imipramine, doxepin) because of fewer
anticholinergic, sedating antihistaminic, and α-adrenergic adverse effects. Treatment
should begin with a very low dose of a TCA increasing as necessary and tolerated.
• Serotonin receptor modulation may be of benefit.
SSRIs/SNRIs are also useful, particularly for patients with anxiety or an affective disorder,
• Pain associated with anorexia, malnutrition, or weight loss. This constellation is extremely
rare in IBS unless there are concurrent alternate factors, such as major psychological
• Pain that is progressive, awakens the patient from sleep, or prevents sleep. • Large volume diarrhea, bloody stools, nocturnal diarrhea, and greasy stools are NOT
associated with IBS and suggest an organic disease.
American Gastroenterological Association. Medical Position Statement on IBS, March, 2006.
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) -
Clinical Pathway Feedback
CHP desires to keep our clinical pathways customarily updated. If you wish to provide additional
input, please use the e-mail address listed below and identify which clinical pathway you are
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Chuck Simpson, DC, CHP Vice President, Clinical Affairs
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