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The Dangers of Untreated IBS

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a prevalent functional type of gastrointestinal disorder affecting millions globally. Symptoms include abdominal cramping, bloating, pain, and altered bowel movements. IBS is a multifactorial condition influenced by environmental, genetic, psychosocial factors, visceral hypersensitivity, gut microbiota, altered gastrointestinal motility, infections, diet, and immune activation. 

Diagnosis is difficult and necessitates thorough and invasive workups. The Rome IV criteria is used to confirm IBS. Treatments for symptom relief include medication, dietary changes, and psychological therapy, with medications serving as the major treatment. Non-pharmacological therapies include cognitive behavior therapy, hypnosis, biofeedback, acupuncture, yoga, and exercise.

IBS severity and red flags

IBS symptoms may remain and eventually worsen if left untreated. Some people have IBS on a regular basis, while others have intermittent symptoms. Severe IBS symptoms that necessitate medical attention include:

  • frequent nausea
  • persistent fatigue
  • urinary problems
  • chronic backache
  • unexplained weight loss or anemia.
  • bowel incontinence

Alarm signs or “red flags” are unrelated to an IBS diagnosis and may indicate an underlying gut-damaging disease or other conditions. They include:

  • Blood in stools (red blood or tarry, black, stool)
  • New symptom onset at 50 years and above
  • Night-time symptoms that wake you up
  • Fever, night sweats, and chills
  • Change in your usual IBS symptoms (such as new and different pain)
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Recent antibiotic use
  • Family history of other gastrointestinal (GI) diseases such as celiac disease

The Dangers of Ignoring IBS:

IBS left untreated can result in chronic discomfort, significant medical expenditures, and worsening symptoms of other disorders. Early identification and treatment are critical to prevent complications.

  1. Poor Quality of Life:

IBS significantly impacts the lives of individuals and society, with untreated symptoms leading to anxiety, sadness, and social disengagement. Female patients have reported worse quality of life than male patients. According to studies, those with moderate to severe IBS miss three times as many days of work as those who do not have gastrointestinal problems.

  1. Nutritional Deficiencies: 

Bowel habits such as diarrhea or constipation can impair vitamin absorption, potentially resulting in nutritional deficiencies in untreated IBS patients, compromising general health and potentially leading to consequences such as anemia.

  1. Chronic abdominal Pain and Discomfort

IBS, a disorder characterized by mild to severe stomach pain, can lead to persistent troubles that make everyday activities difficult and have an impact on mental well-being, and self-medication without expert advice can exacerbate the problem.

  1. Risk of Overlapping Diseases: 

IBS is frequently associated with other diseases such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Ignoring symptoms might aggravate these medical conditions, making therapy more difficult. Complications such as malnutrition and rectal prolapse might occur in untreated cases. Treatment can help prevent certain diseases and alleviate their symptoms.

  1. Compromised Psychological Health:

IBS symptoms, such as irregular bowel movements, pain, and apprehension about uncomfortable situations, can profoundly impact the mental health. Ignoring these sensations can lead to worry and despair, repeating a vicious cycle that further damages the gastrointestinal system.

  1. Increased Healthcare Costs

Early identification and therapy can save money and improve long-term results, breaking the cycle of recurring symptoms and rising healthcare expenditures.

Physical health complications

Untreated IBS can have long-term physical consequences as follows:

  • Anal fissures: Due to persistent constipation, the pressing from trying to produce a bowel movement can develop anal fissures, which are tiny rips in the anus that can be difficult to repair. Itching, discomfort, and bleeding are all symptoms. Manual removal of the feces may necessitate medical help. Fecal stones can form when stool solidifies in the rectum, obstructing its passage.
  • Hemorrhoids:
    Excessive pressing and straining during defecation might result in bulging, irritated veins that can burst and cause bleeding.
  • Fecal impaction: When feces start to pack densely in the rectum, it may be impossible to force it out. This is referred to as fecal impaction.
  • Malnourishment:

IBS patients may avoid nutritious meals owing to worsened symptoms, thus depriving themselves of critical nutrients. Malnourishment can cause weight loss and other health problems.

  • Rectal prolapse: Rectal prolapse, a disorder in which the rectum prolapses outside the anus, especially among those with chronic constipation or in postmenopausal women, leading to mucus leakage.

Mental health complications

IBS-related constipation can negatively influence a person’s mental health. Patients frequently develop a dread of public areas due to concerns about locating a restroom or going to the bathroom quickly. Thus, they may retreat from family, friends, and coworkers, making their lives less joyful.

Anxiety:

Anxiety caused by IBS symptoms can lead to chronic health problems such as heart disease and respiratory problems. IBS patients have reported a worse quality of life than the general US population and more impairment than those with gastroesophageal reflux disease, asthma, or migraine headaches.

Depression:

Long-term stomach pain from IBS can cause concern over symptoms, which can lead to melancholy or long-term emotions of hopelessness, leading to a loss of motivation, withdrawal from others, and general bodily discomfort. 

Final thoughts

IBS is a chronic abdominal pain disorder characterized by changes in bowel habits and affecting an individual’s quality of life. It can lead to persistent symptoms like depression, anxiety, and somatization disorders, especially in females. Untreated IBS can increase morbidity, healthcare costs, and quality of life. The modern Western diet increases the risk of developing IBS, making it crucial to be aware and seek appropriate treatment.

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