Although it is not a new phenomenon, many people are now increasingly being diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome and the World Gastroenterology Organisation has decided to make the disease the theme of the year, if only to create awareness. “It’s rather a functional disorder, a malfunction of the intestinal system,” he adds.
To rule out other diseases, gastroenterologists screen patients for blood in stool, anaemia and weight loss or gain. “These are not the symptoms of an irritable bowel. Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic disease that is extremely common. At least 30% of patients in a gastroenterologist’s clinic have it,” says Dr Mohammed Ali, head of medical gastroenterology, GH.
Dr Ali adds that skipping diagnosis of the disorder may not prove fatal. “Since many doctors skip rectal examination either because patients hesitate or because doctors don’t want to, they miss cancerous tumours that are not even 7 cm away from the rectum.” Irritable bowel disease is a chronic disorder that can occur over several episodes. “It’s varied in presentation. Sometimes, people complain of constipation for days; the next time they have frequent loose stools. It’s managed with medicines and lifestyle changes,” he explains.
The problem seen most often in clinics is that of patients coming with complications after self-medication. “They just pop in an OTC (over-the-counter) or a priscription pill, and it worsens their condition. Irritable bowel syndrome is managable, but in case it’s cancer it delays diagnosis and even decreases chances of survival,” Dr Ali points out.