Gastrointestinal discomfort often brings people to wander the pharmacy aisles searching for an over the counter medication that will help alleviate symptoms. Remedies for diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating and pain can all be found, and you can effectively treat some issues without seeing a doctor. But when should people consider reaching for the phone instead of the medicine cabinet for these seemingly harmless symptoms? If you are experiencing these GI problems on a routine basis it may be time for you to consider seeing a doctor for evaluation.
Symptoms of constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating and abdominal pain that occur often and range in severity and presentation may be a chronic condition called irritable bowel syndrome, which is diagnosed by a physician. IBS can present with diarrhea, constipation or a combination of both at any point in someone's life and may change throughout life as well. IBS is mainly triggered by foods and lifestyle choices, but you typically have to experience the problem with a certain food before you know to avoid it. Common dietary triggers include dairy, gluten, greasy and fried foods, caffeinated and carbonated drinks and alcohol. People with IBS who lead more sedentary lifestyles typically have more symptoms than those who are more active and exercise regularly. Knowing and avoiding your triggers is the primary treatment for IBS. Unfortunately, not all patients are able to pinpoint a trigger for their IBS symptoms and are forced to just live with and treat the symptoms. Symptoms of rectal bleeding, blood in the stool, persistent and progressive pain are not symptoms of IBS and should be evaluated by your doctor.
There are many different medications to help manage IBS symptoms both over the counter and prescription. Over the counter medications can be used to treat constipation, diarrhea, gas and bloating. If you know and avoid your IBS triggers, it is much easier to control your symptoms with OTC medications. There are medicines that your doctor may prescribe such as muscle relaxers to help further manage symptoms if needed. If you feel that your symptoms are not well controlled by diet and OTC medications, talk with your doctor about what treatment options are right for you.
Whether you have been diagnosed with IBS or you have symptoms consistent with IBS, it is important to establish care with a physician. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms and triggers to decide what treatment is right for you.