Myths And Misconceptions Of IBS

After being diagnosed with IBS, there is still a lot to understand about the illness. It’s important to get factual information about IBS. Until then, what people think about IBS may not be accurate. Below is a list of some of the common myths and misconceptions that people with IBS believe.

Myth: IBS symptoms are the same in everyone

Fact: People with IBS usually complain of recurrent episodes of abdominal pain accompanied by changes in bowel habits, such as constipation, diarrhea, or alternating occurrences of constipation and diarrhea. Abdominal pain is commonly described as a cramping sensation, which at times may be severe. Other gastrointestinal symptoms of IBS may include belching, acid reflux, nausea, and difficulty swallowing. Since there is a long list of possible IBS symptoms, not everyone will experience the same symptoms.1 The variation in IBS symptoms may be because of gender, in which males and females feel slightly different symptoms.2

Myth: IBS is caused by stress

Fact: The exact cause of IBS is still not completely understood.3 To date, IBS is believed to be caused by multiple factors, including psychosocial, environmental, and gut physiology, which may work together to produce symptoms. Stress falls under psychosocial factors and may work with other factors to cause IBS.4 However, it is important to note that a person did not develop IBS because they are a stressed out person.

Myth: There is no treatment for IBS.  You have to learn to live with it.

Fact: Given that there is no cure, the goal of IBS treatment is to improve gastrointestinal symptoms and quality of life. You don’t have to “learn to live with” your IBS. Instead, the symptoms can be managed. The initial management strategy may be determined based on symptom severity and dominant symptom. There are several therapeutic approaches to managing IBS.4

  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Stress management
  • Probiotics
  • Fiber supplements and laxatives
  • Medications
  • Alternative or complementary medicine

Myth: IBS can lead to Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) or cancer.

Fact: There are similarities and differences between IBS and IBD or colon cancer. Therefore, there is a possible overlap between IBS and IBD. Yet, the overlap does not suggest that a diagnosis of IBS will lead to a diagnosis of IBD or cancer. However, IBS is commonly found in people with IBD. IBS is present in approximately 59.7% of people with Crohn’s disease and 38.6% of people with ulcerative colitis who are in clinical remission.4

Myth: IBS is all in your head.

Fact: IBS is NOT all in your head. IBS can be diagnosed through symptom-based guidelines by your doctor. The symptoms are real and should be properly managed.5

Myth: Only women get IBS.

Fact: The female to male ratio of IBS prevalence is approximately 2:1. Therefore, men can have IBS too, but it’s not as common as it is for women.6

Myth: Eating fiber will cure IBS.

Fact: There is no cure for IBS, but there may be some benefit to adding fiber to the diet.1,4 Constipation is initially treated with dietary fiber supplements.7 It is important to note that no food will "cure" IBS. However, finding the right foods for your body can help in managing symptoms.

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Written by: Truc Thanh | Last reviewed: June 2016.