Introduction

Think of our cars. They have many systems: a power train which is the engine and transmission, a suspension setup which is how the wheels are attached to the frame, a steering setup which controls the way the wheels are moved for turning, an electrical system which handles the various auxiliary motors and lights, a fuel system for feeding fuel, burning it, and getting rid of the waste gases, etc. In the old days, when cars were simpler, a car mechanic could figure out each of these systems and fix them if they were broken. Now, with cars as complicated as they are, a modern garage will have specialist mechanics to deal with each one of these systems; no one fixes all of them unless the problem is obvious and easy.

In looking at our bodies, we find we are also arranged in systems: a nervous system, a bone system, breathing system, etc. Because these systems are complicated, we have doctor specialists for each one. The system that acts like the car’s fuel system, that is, that takes care of our food, is called the digestive system. Some of the parts of the digestive system are the esophagus, the liver, and the colon. These, and the other parts of the digestive system, together make up the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). Doctor specialists for the gastrointestinal tract are called gastroenterologists.

When our gastrointestinal tract is running smoothly, we scarcely know it is there. When it signals that we are hungry, we eat; and when it signals a bowel movement, we find a toilet. Otherwise, we forget about it. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t run smoothly. It acts up. Maybe we get symptoms of pain, or bloating, or our trips to the toilet get irregular.

Millions of Americans are troubled with these symptoms. If their symptoms persist, many of them will eventually see a doctor. Some will see several doctors, and maybe receive different advice from each one. But after an interview, examination, and tests, one or more of these doctors will often complete their evaluation by saying “There’s nothing seriously wrong; you have irritable bowel syndrome”.

But we want to know more: what is the irritable bowel syndrome, and what do we do about it? This book will answer these questions. You will learn that for many patients the irritable bowel syndrome is a minor condition and can be ignored. However, other patients will have to make changes in their living patterns if they want to feel better. You probably noticed I used the word “patients”. This should not alarm you, by “patient” I only mean a person who is getting advice and treatment from a medical doctor.

I am a gastroenterologist with over forty years of training and experience. I have talked with and examined and treated thousands of patients. During these years, I have been particularly interested in what is now called Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (FGID) including the Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Although I have formally studied these conditions both during medical school and afterwards, I have also been taught a great deal about them from my patients. From this experience, I have developed ideas and treatments that have benefited those patients. This book contains these ideas and treatments.

As a reader, you might be a patient, family member, doctor, nurse, dietician or maybe you’re just interested in the topic. Regardless of your status, it is my hope that from this book you will gain a useful perspective on FGID and IBS. And of most importance, it is my hope that you will be able to use the information here to help yourself or someone else to a more comfortable life. So with this brief message, I look forward to your starting this book. I hope you will find it interesting enough to read through to the end.

So join me on this trip through the gastrointestinal tract.

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