Irritable bowel syndrome is the most common gastrointestinal disorder in the U.S., and one area that merits further study is why our military personnel seem to have such a high incidence of IBS-like symptoms.
Two studies from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles indicated that we might be getting closer to an answer.
One study confirmed earlier research that IBS is linked to an overgrowth of bacteria in the gut, noted a Cedars-Sinai news release. A separate study revealed through a mathematical model that IBS can be an outcome of food poisoning; in fact, military personnel -- commonly serving under high-stress situations with unpredictable meals and water supplies -- are at a much higher risk for IBS than the rest of the population.
An estimated 20 percent of the American adult population has IBS, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Symptoms include abdominal pain or cramps, excess gas or bloating and stomach distention. Patients’ conditions might fall into one of three categories: diarrhea-predominant, constipation-predominant, or diarrhea and constipation in an alternating pattern.
“Patients with this condition (IBS) suffer serious quality of life issues,” said Dr. Mark Pimentel, a primary contributor to the Cedars-Sinai studies. “It’s a disease that is frequently misunderstood and difficult for people to talk about,” he said, adding that getting a better handle on its causes will lead to more effective treatment.
The first study, in collaboration with Sismanogleion General Hospital in Athens, Greece, and the University of Athens, took small bowel cultures from 320 patients. Of those patients with IBS, 37.5 percent tested positive for bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, compared with a less than 10 percent rate for those who did not have IBS. The overgrowth showed up more often in those with diarrhea-predominant IBS.
The second study used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other researchers to conclude that food poisoning, or gastroenteritis, might account for the majority of IBS cases. In addition, the mathematical model predicted that higher risk populations, such as military personnel, would have a greater incidence of IBS and in some cases would develop it faster than those with a genetic predisposition.
“While everyone understands that our troops encounter great danger and difficult conditions while serving their country, this study reminds us that we need to pay greater attention to the dietary woes and digestive upsets that long have been the subject of wry discussion among overseas forces,” Pimentel said of the study results.
From the Digestive Diseases Information site, here’s a partial list of items that seem to worsen IBS symptoms (and military personnel might be able to relate):
Large meals; caffeinated drinks; wheat, rye, barley, chocolate, milk products or alcohol; and stress, conflict, or emotional upsets. The site also noted that stress management plays an important part in IBS treatment, along with dietary changes and medications.
Reviewed June 22, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton