Many factors can prompt individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to seek consultation with a specialist said Anthony Lembo, MD, of Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, in a virtual presentation at the conference jointly provided by Rutgers and Global Academy for Medical Education.

Dr. Anthony Lembo

Dr. Anthony Lembo

Most patients with IBS suffer with symptoms for years before seeking care, he said.

Common reasons to cause an individual with IBS to seek care include severity of abdominal pain, psychological disturbance such as anxiety, and concerns about organic disease such as colon cancer, perhaps because they know someone who was recently diagnosed with it,” he said.

Our understanding of the pathophysiology of IBS has expanded dramatically over the past decade, Dr. Lembo said. IBS was once thought to be primarily a motility disorder, but currently the many interacting factors include not only motility but also diet, gut microflora, visceral hypersensitivity, immune dysregulation, and brain-gut interactions, he said.

The pathophysiology of postinfectious IBS has been particularly well described and includes the role of anti-CdtB and antivinculin antibodies, and low-grade inflammation in the lining of the intestines, Dr. Lembo explained.

These cases of postinfection IBS can linger for up to a year in approximately 10% of patients, he said.

IBS can affect anyone, anywhere, but it tends to be more common in younger individuals than older adults, and more common in women than men, Dr. Lembo said.

When diagnosing IBS in the clinic setting, a history should include a timeline and triggers for symptoms, he advised. A detailed dietary history, review of medications, and an assessment for alarm features (such as family history of colon cancer or celiac disease, weight loss, anemia, blood in stools, nocturnal awakening, or an onset of symptoms at age older than 50 years) should also be included he said.

Physical signs of systemic and local disease, and a digital rectal exam to assess patients for dyssynergia, especially those with constipation should also be performed, Dr. Lembo added.

In some cases, consider a colonoscopy for patients with IBS, namely those with alarm features, age-appropriate screening criteria, the presence of persistent and frequent watery diarrhea, or in patients who don’t respond to therapy, he added.

Treatment strategies for IBS should start with diet and lifestyle modifications when appropriate, Dr. Lembo said. Encourage patients to pursue moderate to vigorous exercise or some physical activity 3-5 times a week, to get enough sleep, and to start with a traditional IBS diet. Such a diet involves three meals a day, with three or fewer snacks, and not overeating at any of these times, he said. Other diet tips include reducing consumption of fatty or spicy foods, as well as coffee, alcohol, onions, beans, and cabbage. He also advised encouraging patients to avoid gum and soft drinks, as well as artificial sweeteners, and to use soluble rather than insoluble fiber. The low-FODMAP (fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols) diet has shown benefit in some patients. For those who respond to the low-FODMAP diet it is important to reintroduce foods into their diet. Nutrition consultation should be considered for most patients.

Follow a stepwise approach to treatment, Dr. Lembo emphasized that, if IBS patients with constipation are not improving with diet and lifestyle, over-the-counter medications such as polyethylene glycol can be considered to improve bowel consistency, although the drug’s effect on pain is limited. Prescription options include secretogogues (linaclotide, plenecatide, lubiprostone), and prokinetics (tegaserod, a 5-HT4 partial agonist that was recently reapproved by the FDA for women < 65 years without cardiovascular risk factors). In general, prescription drugs for IBS-C have similar efficacy in most endpoints though differences in their mechanisms of action and side effects should be considered when prescribing a particular agent, he said.

Other perspectives on managing IBS include cognitive behavior therapy and fecal microbiota transplant, Dr. Lembo said. Cognitive behavior therapy improves IBS symptoms after 12 weeks in patients who had weekly sessions compared with controls who received 4 weeks of basic patient education, he noted. As for fecal microbiota transplant, the jury is still out and it is important to note that FMT is not currently approved for clinical practice for patients with IBS, he noted.

Dr. Lembo disclosed relationships with Allergan, Ardelyx, Bayer, Bioamerica, Ironwood, Mylan and Takeda.

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