Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common long-term or recurrent disorder of gastrointestinal (GI) functioning that affects 10 to 15 percent of the population. It is characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating or gas, diarrhea, and constipation. If you’ve had to deal with irritable bowel syndrome, you know that the symptoms can often be quite challenging to manage and may even have an impact on your quality of life. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with IBS due to complication from ingesting contaminated food, speak with an irritable bowel syndrome lawyer today. 

IBS and Food Poisoning

When most people get food poisoning, the symptoms will pass within 24 hours, and they can return to their regular lives. For some, symptoms can linger for quite some time, and about 10 percent (1 in 9) of people develop IBS. 

Many different types of bacteria can cause food poisoning (e.g., salmonella, listeria, E. coli, shigella, campylobacter, etc.), but they share a common characteristic. They all release a toxin called cytolethal distending toxin B (CdtB) when infecting the body. CdtB is not something the body wants hanging around, so as a response, the immune system produces antibodies to destroy it. 

The immune system’s response is a good and an essential process for healing, but it goes sideways for those who go on to develop IBS. The cascade of anti-CdtB attacks normal, healthy protein as well, called vinculin. The reason being that vinculin looks very similar to CdtB, and the immune system gets confused. Vinculin is actually what helps how quickly or slowly things move through the GI tract, so as a result, victims experience chronic GI distress. That is why elevated levels of anti-CdtB and/or anti-vinculin in a blood test indicate IBS with up to 100% certainty. 

IBS Symptom Statistics

People who suffer from IBS, on average, experience symptoms four times each month. When first diagnosed, the symptoms can last for a period of five days each time. About 30 percent to 45 percent of patients will be symptom-free for more extended periods of time, a year after the initial diagnosis. Approximately 50 percent to 70 percent of people with IBS still report symptoms after ten years from their diagnosis. About 45 percent of people believed to be in remission still experience other gastrointestinal symptoms, such as indigestion, and at rates up to seven times higher than the general population.

History of IBS

The earliest reports describing IBS are from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The first description from Osler in 1892 coined the term mucous colitis. Since then the disorder has been referred to as spastic, irritable or nervous colon. However, at that time, a diagnosis was only made after full investigation and unsuccessful surgeries to exclude malignant, inflammatory, or infectious diseases. Until the 1970s, IBS remained frequently misdiagnosed and poorly understood. Early theories suggested that IBS was a result of a mental or psychosomatic disorder.

Global Prevalence

About 10–15% of people in the developed world are believed to be affected by IBS. In the U.S., there are between two to three and a half million physician visits for medical care related to IBS every year. It is also the most commonly diagnosed disorder by gastroenterologists, accounting for up to 12% of patient visits to primary care providers. Approximately 40 percent of people with IBS experience mild symptoms, 35 percent have moderate symptoms, and 25 percent suffer severe IBS.

The global prevalence varies according to country (from 1.1% to 45.0%) and criteria used to define and diagnose IBS. The following table lists studies performed in different countries to estimate the number of people with IBS and IBS-like symptoms.

Location Prevalence Year Notes
Mexico 46% 2006 Study measured prevalence of GI abdominal pain/cramping
Brazil 43% 2006 Study measured prevalence of GI abdominal pain/cramping
Mexico City 35% 2006 n=324. Also measured functional diarrhea and functional vomiting. High rates attributed to “stress of living in a populated city.”
Pakistan 34% 2005 College students
United States 15% 2001 Estimate
United States 14.1% 2005 Most undiagnosed
Pakistan 14% 2007 Much more common in 16–30 age range. 56% male, 44% female
United Kingdom 8.2%

10.5%

2003

2004

Prevalence increased substantially 1970–2004
Japan 10% 2006 Study measured prevalence of GI abdominal pain/cramping
Canada 6% 2001

As you can see, IBS is much more common in South America. It generally takes somewhere between two to three years for someone to be accurately diagnosed with IBS. Because many patients do not seek medical attention for symptoms indicative of IBS, it may be underreported. Often people rely on over-the-counter medications to ease their discomfort. Reportedly, only 30% of people suffering symptoms of IBS, especially IBS with diarrhea, will talk to a physician about it.

IBS and Gender

IBS is around two to three times more common in women, who are four to five times more likely to seek treatment for it than men. IBS also typically occurs in people younger than 45 and becomes less common with age. Approximately 50% of people with IBS reported having their first symptoms before 35. Studies have shown that females with IBS have symptoms that fluctuate in severity according to their menstrual cycle, which means hormonal differences likely play a role. Doctors also believe that genetics and early-life influences can have an impact on the condition since IBS seems to cluster in families. 

Impact of IBS on Quality of Life

IBS is difficult to manage and live with. It also frequently coexists with other health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and chronic pain. After an IBS diagnosis, patients also have a higher rate of developing colorectal cancer within the first year. After the first year, that risk decreases to the same as any other person. 

In one study on the impact IBS has on people’s lives, it was discovered that people with IBS would exchange 10 to 15 years of their life for a cure. Women who suffer from IBS are 47 percent to 55 percent more likely to undergo unnecessary abdominal surgery, for example, ovarian surgery, hysterectomy, or an appendectomy. In the U.S., the direct costs of IBS are an estimated $1 billion per year and $21 billion worldwide. 

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