IBS? An easy question, with a clear answer … Not!
I have no idea what IBS is. It’s a term we use to define a whole variety of symptoms, ranging from abdominal pain, alternating bowel habits, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, cramping, and probably anything else you can think of. We don’t know what causes it, but we know it’s not from an easily identified cause, like inflammation, gallstones, celiac, thyroid problems, or something like that. (So while sometimes it’s obvious, other times if your doctor thinks you might have IBS, but isn’t quite sure, they may want to rule some of these other entities out…)
What I do know for sure is that IBS is really common, and primarily affects women (though men can definitely have IBS, too). Some people have mild symptoms that don’t really impact them all that much, and other people are really debilitated.
Because our understanding of the causes of IBS isn’t great, the treatments we recommend usually focus on management of the symptoms, and will depend on what the primary symptom is. Probiotics work really well for some people, and one called Align has some pretty good data to support its use. If you’re mostly constipated or have diarrhea, your doctor may suggest trying something like psyllium. If you have a lot of bloating, your doctor will likely suggest a variety of dietary modifications, like avoiding dairy, gluten, or FODMAPs. In fact, since your symptoms have likely been bothering you for a long time, and your appointment might be a long ways away, it probably wouldn’t hurt to give some of these things a try in the interim (talk to your doctor if you have specific health issues that might make certain diets unsafe for you, or if you have any concerns).
Check out this site’s section on elimination diets.
Ultimately, if dietary and lifestyle changes aren’t helping, your doctor may suggest medications, ranging from over-the-counter anti-diarrheals, to meds that get you going, all the way to low-dose anti-depressants.
Some alternative/complimentary therapies have also been studied with some evidence to suggest their benefit – so if you’re open to trying them, give mindfulness and acupuncture a shot!