(BPT) – Millions of people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) across the country suffer from painful and debilitating gastrointestinal symptoms including cramping, bloating, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhea. Even worse, almost 70 percent of IBS sufferers are undiagnosed and have no real answer as to what is causing their pain – no known condition that they can treat.
April marks IBS Awareness Month, a period devoted to increasing knowledge about IBS, a disease which is widely misunderstood, but affects up to 40 million people across the United States.
Often incorrectly attributed to lifestyle and stress, IBS leaves many patients feeling like their symptoms are just in their heads. Family, friends, and sometimes even physicians suggest that patient’s symptoms can be alleviated by simply eating better and exercising.
One IBS patient, Ashley Walkley, recalls suffering for almost eight years with undiagnosed diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D) before finally receiving a diagnosis using IBSchek(TM), a simple blood test.
Ashley was 27-years-old and living in Los Angeles when she began experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms so painful that they began to interfere with her job and social life. Her symptoms were erratic and unpredictable, so she was always worried about when an embarrassing flare-up might interrupt her day. She grew tired of always needing to know where the nearest restroom was and not knowing what was causing her suffering or how to treat it.
Traditionally, IBS has been a diagnosis of exclusion, reached through a diagnostic process of elimination of other disease states and medical conditions. For Ashley, this process entailed more than ten different tests over the course of almost eight years, some of which were very invasive, uncomfortable and costly. In total, she estimates having spent approximately $ 20,000 out of pocket after insurance for different tests, medications and treatments.
“It’s incredibly frustrating to spend so much time and money and still have no real answers,” Ashley commented. “You start to wonder if it really is just stress, and you start to feel at least a little bit crazy.”
Mark Pimentel, M.D., FRCPC, Director of the Gastrointestinal Motility Program and Pimentel Laboratory at Cedars-Sinai, says cases like Ashley’s are not uncommon.
“In the past, doctors have not fully understood IBS and there has been debate over whether it was even a real medical condition. That’s changing now as we learn more about its pathogenesis. We recently discovered that IBS-D can be caused by an infection – often food poisoning – and as a result, for the first time, we identified two biomarkers in the blood which makes diagnosis easier,” he explained.
This was the case for Ashley, who was finally able to get her answer of IBS diagnosis using IBSchek, which looks for two antibody biomarkers: anti-CdtB and anti-vinculin. A first-of-its kind blood test, IBSchek can help shorten the diagnostic process that has been so enduring for many IBS-D patients.
“Finally having a real answer as to what is causing my discomfort is such a relief,” Ashley explained. “It’s a confirmation that this is a real disease. It’s not just in my head.”
A recent survey of IBS patients across America, performed by the American Gastroenterological Association, confirmed that the suffering of IBS patients is very real. In fact, the survey responses revealed that IBS symptoms are so bothersome that 47 percent of IBS patients would give up internet for one month to experience relief, while 55 percent would give up caffeine.
Equally interesting was how hesitant sufferers were to talk to their doctors about their symptoms, even while in so much pain. The survey showed that 67 percent of respondents waited over a year to visit a doctor after first experiencing symptoms, with 11 percent waiting more than 10 years.
However, previously it was not just the daunting and lengthy path to diagnosis that caused IBS patients to hesitate.
“There has always been a stigma surrounding IBS,” explained Dr. Pimentel. “There is a high level of shame and embarrassment associated with the symptoms of IBS, so patients are often uncomfortable talking about it or bringing up their symptoms with their physicians.”
Survey respondents echoed this sentiment, reporting that they were more uncomfortable discussing abnormal bowel movements than discussing STDs – a confirmation that embarrassment may be a large factor in patients’ hesitation to speak up.
“During IBS Awareness month I think it’s really important to talk about early diagnosis,” Ashley emphasized. “I know there are millions of other people out there suffering from IBS without any answers, just like I was. I can’t stress enough how important it is to talk to your doctor even if you are embarrassed. IBSchek finally gave me the answer I was searching for.”
Developed by Commonwealth Laboratories, LLC, IBSchek(TM) is easy to order through Quest Diagnostics(TM) testing centers and has a quick turnaround, providing results to physicians up to 24 hours after Commonwealth’s laboratory receives the patient’s specimen.
To learn more about IBSchek, visit: http://ibschek.com/.