Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects approximately one out of five people in the U.S., and is prevalent throughout the world. It is the second leading cause of absenteeism in the workplace.
IBS is often characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation or alternating diarrhea and constipation. Other symptoms include straining at having a bowel movement, an urgent need to find a bathroom, or a feeling of not having emptied the rectum. Passage of mucous in the stool is common. Fatigue, insomnia, as well as stress, anxiety and depression are also other symptoms which may be associated with IBS.
IBS is the most common functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder. Functional GI disorders are defined as chronic or recurring GI symptoms which cannot be explained by biochemical or structural abnormalities. This typically means that after taking blood tests, x-rays, examining the GI tract with endoscopy, and biopsy results, doctors still cannot find the cause of your problems. Functional GI problems affect 35 million Americans, and their lack of success at finding effective treatment leads to feelings of frustration, hopelessness and despair.
Successfully Treating IBS
Successful treatment of IBS requires a more comprehensive model of diagnoses and treatment, expanding the conventional biomedical model to a biopsychosocial/multidisciplinary model which addresses the underlying causes of illnesses presenting as symptoms. Typically, 70 percent of IBS patients going through such a program report significant decreases or resolution of their symptoms (Newsweek, 10/2004).
The biopsychosocial approach focuses on the multiple factors ranging from biological (physical, neurochemical), psychological (thoughts, feelings, attitudes and beliefs), and social (interpersonal relationships), which contribute to health and illness.
An example of this dynamic is the presence or absence of social support, high levels of stress, depression and physical/biochemical abnormalities which interact at the cellular level to produce a state of health or illness. Accordingly, IBS can only be understood and effectively treated from a biopsychosocial approach, which changes the focus from attempting to manage symptoms, to addressing the underlying biological, psychological and social dynamics contributing to the illness.
The biopsychosocial/multidisciplinary model of diagnosis and treatment draws upon the expertise of immunologists, physiologists, research scientists, psychoanalytic and behavioral psychologists and psychiatrists, neurobiologists, clinical nutritionists, clergy, behavioral medicine specialists and others.
Behavioral medicine is an interdisciplinary field concerned with the development and integration of sociocultural psychosocial, behavioral and biomedical knowledge relevant to health and illness and the application of this knowledge to disease prevention, health promotion, etiology, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation.