How Telemedicine Can Be Used To Treat IBS

Are you routinely upset by an upset stomach? That could mean you’re welcome in a big tent club you’re probably not so delighted to be welcome in. Irritable bowel syndrome (or IBS for short), is a surprisingly common condition, but one which people often feel reluctant or reticent to seek help for. According to

  • Between 5-10% of the global population is believed to suffer from IBS
  • Nationally, irritable bowel syndrome affects between 25-45 million Americans
  • Roughly 20-40% of gastroenterologist visits are related to IBS symptoms
  • Annually, the U.S. sees between 2.4-3.5 million IBS-related physician visits
  • The majority of IBS sufferers are younger people under the age of 50
  • Approximately 1 in 3 IBS sufferers are male, whereas 2 out of 3 are female
  • Unnecessary ovarian and abdominal surgeries often correlate with IBS

The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can range anywhere between mildly unpleasant at best, and severely debilitating pain at worst. Just as women face greater risk of suffering from IBS symptoms than men, it is more frequently a severe issue for women’s health than men’s health. Elaborating on that last point, between 47% to 55% of female IBS sufferers have gone on to have hysterectomies.

Unfortunately, IBS is a lifelong condition that is incapable of being cured, but the good news is that it’s more often than not very treatable and manageable through lifestyle changes, the right diet choices, medicine, and believe it or not, even telemedicine! As higher profile media outlets like NPR have recently covered, new apps and telehealth-driven treatments have started to exhibit promising, surprising efficacy in treating the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

One recent study published by Wiley found that mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)-based stress reduction apps yielded a 71% positive response in reducing bad gastrointestinal health symptoms. Likewise, an older study in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics found a 70% positive symptom reduction when using telehealth to remedy the symptoms of IBS. 

From diagnosis, to online therapy, to other solutions, let’s explore some common questions (and answers) surrounding IBS and the novel treatments used to remedy it. 

How IBS Is Diagnosed

There’s no definitive, singular, uniform test that a doctor can use to evaluate and diagnose irritable bowel syndrome. However, if you’d like to consult an online doctor to screen and treat any GI symptoms that may be indicative of IBS, they’ll most likely want to evaluate:

  • Your personal medical history
  • Your family’s medical history
  • Your physical health (via exam)
  • Your physical symptoms

According to a study published in the JAMA Network, the results of video diagnosis correspond with real-life diagnoses at least 90% of the time, so provided you connect with a trusted online doctor, you shouldn’t worry about a loss of diagnostic accuracy through telemedicine.

But whether you choose an online or offline physician, these are the common milder symptoms your physician will typically evaluate when trying to determine if you might have irritable bowel syndrome:

Irritable bowel syndrome can pose both great physical and mental health complications. We’ll touch more on the latter later. But beyond IBS, your doctor may also want to screen for signs of potentially more severe GI health issues, including:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Anemia
  • Onset of symptoms after 50

Once a remote diagnosis is established, you can then receive remote treatment. Through remote care, cognitive behavioral therapy, and even hypnotherapy, as those aforementioned two studies have established. But how does this particular condition play into other conditions, and beyond apps, what are some other lifestyle changes you can deploy to mitigate your IBS symptoms?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome After COVID

According to a report from the Massachusetts General Hospital, over 1/3rd of patients (39.5%) who’ve recovered from COVID-19 have gone on to develop irritable bowel syndrome or other gastrointestinal disorders. 

Although more research could still be done, as COVID only emerged relatively recently in 2020, early studies suggest that there may be a potential correlation between contracting COVID, and subsequently developing IBS or other GI health conditions.

That aforementioned study found that women participants faced double the risk of developing post-infection GI health issues, and that pre-existing mental health history with anxiety and depression (among both women and men) tripled the risk of developing post-infection IBS.

COVID-19 can be a bad enough contagion to deal with on its own, but if your suffering from that condition is compounded by the suffering caused by a severe GI condition, then that can only spell insult to injury. 

But COVID with or without GI health issues, you don’t deserve to deal with either condition alone. An online doctor can help you routinely stay on top of managing both while you’re self-isolating at home, within the safety of your own home!

Irritable Bowel Syndrome And Anxiety

As we’ve alluded to previously, individuals with anxiety disorder and a prior history of dealing with other mental health conditions face a greater risk of developing irritable bowel syndrome. Beyond cases of post-COVID infection IBS facing exacerbated risks with depression and anxiety, depression and anxiety may exacerbate the severity of irritable bowel syndrome. 

Anxiety tripling the risk of developing irritable bowel syndrome may potentially even be an underestimation. For instance, an older study published by the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine ascertained that 44% of the IBS patients they examined had a co-occurring anxiety disorder, and a staggering 81% concurrently dealt with depression.

Fortunately, even if there are no nearby affordable, accessible therapists in your area, online therapists and mental health apps that utilize cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) strategies can still help you mitigate and cope with the symptoms associated with IBS. Ergo, they may also help you cope with and manage the emotional stressors associated with your IBS. 

Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Dangerous?

On its own, IBS isn’t life-threatening, nor does it have any substantive direct links or risks insofar as developing a more serious or life-threatening gastrointestinal health condition. However, while it can’t threaten your life, IBS can most certainly impact and threaten to worsen your quality of life, so we’d recommend being proactive and working to manage your symptoms as soon as you can.

One simple, proactive way you can manage and mitigate symptoms is through healthier diet choices. Below are two lists of foods that you should (and should not eat) when living with IBS. 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Foods To Eat

  • Almonds and Low FODMAP Nuts
  • Low FODMAP Fruits and Vegetables
  • Pumpkin and Sunflower Seeds
  • Fermented Foods Rich in Probiotics
  • Eggs and Lean Protein Rich Meats
  • Different Soups and Bone Broths
  • Anchovies and Omega-3 Fish

Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Foods To Avoid

  • Beans and Legumes
  • Drinks High in Caffeine
  • Sugar-Free Sweeteners
  • Alcoholic Beverages
  • Cauliflower and Broccoli
  • Fried and Processed Foods
  • Chocolate Snacks and Candies
  • Onions and Garlic

Will IBS Ever Go Away?

Unfortunately, as we’ve mentioned previously, IBS is not a curable issue, and may potentially be a lifelong one for some people. But by implementing the aforementioned therapeutic strategies, lifestyle changes, and mindfulness-informed decision-making, you can do a lot to make the symptoms more manageable and bearable. 

Even if you’re underinsured or uninsured, you can still access the standard of telehealth you deserve through affordable, $19 online doctors.

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Sarah Ryan
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