CHICAGO, June 15 (Xinhua) -- A study recently posted on the website of the University of Illinois (UI) suggests that many athletes may have undiagnosed irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Through national athletic clubs and social media, the researchers recruited athletes who had completed or planned to participate in marathons, ultramarathons or half- or full-distance triathlons.
Participants were asked about gastrointestinal symptoms such as cramps and pain, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, which can be indicative of IBS. Athletes were asked if they had experienced these symptoms when they were at rest, during training or competition, and within two hours of physical activity.
More than half of the athletes in the study reported some gastrointestinal difficulties, but the data indicated that the overall prevalence of IBS among them was similar to that of the general population in the United States at about 10 percent.
While less than 3 percent of the study participants had been diagnosed with IBS by a clinician, another 7 percent of them met the Rome III diagnostic criteria for IBS, the clinical standards that many physicians were using to diagnose the disease when the surveys were administered, between December 2015 and January 2017.
To be diagnosed with IBS under the Rome III criteria, patients must experience abdominal pain or discomfort at least three days per month for three months, along with two or more other symptoms.
However, when the researchers applied an older diagnostic tool called the Manning criteria, which includes a broader array of gastrointestinal symptoms, the proportion of the athletes with possible IBS jumped to nearly 23 percent.
"If you're suffering with these types of symptoms consistently, don't assume it's something you have to live with just because you're very active," said UI food science professor Soo-Yeun Lee, who co-wrote the study. "You may have IBS and want to seek medical advice."
IBS symptoms were nearly three times as common among women, who also were significantly more likely to report that their bowel problems interfered with training or competition, the researchers found.
Athletes with gastrointestinal problems may benefit from dietary changes, medications and other strategies that can mitigate the pain and help them manage their symptoms.
Clinicians advise people with IBS to restrict their intake of short-chain carbohydrates, which ferment in the gut, causing digestive problems such as bloating, gas and stomach pain.