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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center

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WebMD 5: Gastrointestinal Disorders

Our expert answers questions about the causes, treatment, and prevention of gastrointestinal disorders.

3. Are IBS and GERD preventable?

Prevention is really tough. They're both extremely common conditions, and gastroenterologists are often trying to treat them once they're already established.

Most people are not aware that smoking cigarettes doesn't just have a bad effect on your heart and lungs but also on acid secretion. It tends to cause a lot more acid to come into your stomach.

Also, stress clearly plays a major role in most, if not all, GI disorders. When you're stressed, hormonal changes cause your stomach to produce more acid. And more acid can mean more acid reflux. IBS can also be stress-related. So controlling and managing stress is helpful. And for acid reflux, keeping your weight under control is critical because gaining weight can cause GERD.

4. Are there alternative methods or promising new treatments?

Focusing on stress management, exercise, and weight loss and diet are not exactly alternative treatments, but I think they are certainly a key part of treating all these conditions.

Another area I think is moving from alternative to mainstream is the use of probiotics: healthy germs in your digestive system. One of the main places we have healthy bacteria is in our colon, so if something interferes with those, you end up with problems with digestion -- constipation, diarrhea, or abdominal pain. Now we know there are some things that probiotics may be extremely helpful for -- including treating IBS.

Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that's probably going to become more accepted for treating GI disorders, including conditions like IBS. It's a little complicated, because for whom it works -- and the mechanism for how it works -- is unclear. But I think acupuncture definitely works for some folks as more than just stress reduction, though it certainly helps with that, too.

5. GI issues affect emotional and social health, not just physical. What can be done?

It's sort of a joke: Which is more important? A cardiologist? A neurologist? Or a gastroenterologist? The bottom line is, if you're constipated, nauseated, having abdominal pain or diarrhea, it doesn't matter if everything else is working -- you're still going to be miserable.

I see people every day who have major emotional issues and major bowel issues; there's just a very tight connection between the two. Part of it is pointing out the connection, part of it is listening, part of it is looking for things that help in both areas -- like stress management and exercise -- and part of it is sometimes helping you recognize there may come a time when you don't just need a gastroenterologist, you also need a psychologist or a psychiatrist to help you manage these things. If your GI tract is not happy, it's very hard to be a happy person. 

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Reviewed on February 01, 2012

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