A GROWING NUMBER of African-Americans--especially women--are being diagnosed with the gastrointestinal disorder known as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Doctors say about 15 percent of African-American women who complain of abdominal pain have been diagnosed with the disease, which is characterized by severe cramping and diarrhea, or bloating and constipation. Overall IBS affects up to 20 percent of the population, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders.
In response to the growing number of sufferers, new treatments have emerged, and are meant to supplement, not replace fiber therapy, doctors say. One is called Zelnorm, which helps with constipation. (Some studies show that it works better on women than men and it is unclear why.) The second is called Lotronex, which treats diarrhea. The new medications help nerve endings in the intestines communicate better with the brain and the brain with the intestines. In the past, doctors relied on fiber therapy and muscle relaxants to treat the disease, but found that approach wasn't effective enough.
The cause of IBS is unclear, but some doctors see a link between the disease and stress, poor eating habits and obesity. The disease is not associated with other serious GI ailments, such as inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis), or colon cancer, according to the American College of Gastroenterology.
Diagnosing IBS can be tricky. Specialists tend to make a diagnosis based on symptoms and, among other things, tests such as an endoscopy, medical history and blood tests. Many specialists require patients to have IBS symptoms for at least three months over the previous year before making a diagnosis. But once diagnosed, the prognosis is good. Experts say that patients should not worry about it leading to other serious illnesses.
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COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group