Its symptoms are second only to the common cold in the reason people see their doctor or miss work. It's irritable bowel syndrome. An estimated 57 million Americans have it.
"People usually have recurring abdominal bloating or discomfort," said Dr. Thomas Welton of Cotton-O'Neil Digestive Center. "Sometimes they get diarrhea, sometimes they get constipation, and sometimes they get both. It's not just a one-time thing. It's something that happens to them several weeks out of each month."
Dr. Welton said IBS isn't deadly, but it can have a huge impact on your life. He described one woman he saw recently who hadn't been to her children's little league games in four years out of fear her symptoms would keep her stuck in a portable toilet.
The good news is IBS can be helped. Dr. Welton said a high fiber, low fat diet and increased exercise are a start. There are also a whole host of medications. Among the newer ones, Zelnorm helps people with constipation dominant IBS. It's generally considered safe.
Lotronex is for those with diarrhea dominant IBS. For it, you're required to get a specialist's prescription and sign special forms. Dr. Welton said, in some people, it causes severe constipation and decreases blood flow to the colon.
"Patients need to be aware this can happen," he said. "When those symptoms occur, they just need to stop the medicine, and they'll have 100-percent recovery."
No matter what treatment route you take, doctors say if you're missing work or changing plans, the important thing is to get treated. A lot of people who suffer, Dr. Welton said, can be helped with a safe medication.
For more information on IBS, you can log on to www.aboutibs.org.