Irritable bowel syndrome is a bowel condition characterized by various symptoms like constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, cramping, and alteration in bowel habits. It is not similar to inflammatory bowel disease because in IBS, the structure of bowel is not abnormal. IBS interferes with the normal functions of the colon. People with IBS may have a more sensitive colon than most people. Sensitivity may be caused by stress, large meals, gas, medicines, caffeine to name a few.
IBS does not harm the intestine and does not lead to any serious disease, just serious discomfort. Some estimates put the number of Americans with IBS symptoms at 1 in 5, making it one of the more popular disorders seen by doctors. It seems to strike women more than men and occurs before the age of 35 in about 50% of the cases.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Causes
The reasons for development of irritable bowel syndrome are not clear. The possible reasons may include the infection of intestine and problem in the control of bowel by the brain causing nerves to be more active during stress and thus, causing the squeezing of intestine. Researchers have shown that irritable bowel syndrome can be caused by a bacterial infection in the gastrointestinal tract also. IBS can occur at any age and it is more common in women and early age groups. Its symptoms vary from person to person. The common symptoms include abdominal pain, gas, bloating that persists for 3 days or more. These symptoms usually reduce after bowel movements and increase in frequency of bowel movements.
Other symptoms include constipation and diarrhea. IBS patients can have any of the above-mentioned symptoms, which can prolong to a week or more. Moreover, the following have been associated with the worsening of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms: large meals, cold drinks, tea, wheat, chocolate, milk, stress, emotional upsets.
Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms
Irritable bowel syndrome is generally diagnosed based on a complete medical history. It is usually unpredictable. The patient may go for a number of months without any symptoms and then have a sudden, drastic episode. It can be painful, debilitating and can affect normal life activities. There are no specific tests for IBS but some diagnostic tests like blood test (for ensuring celiac disease) and stool cultures (for finding infections) are conducted. A colonoscopy can also be done to confirm irritable bowel syndrome.
IBS symptoms can be treated in a number of ways including medication, improvement in lifestyle and diet improvements. Medication may include stool softener in case of constipation and anti-diarrheal (opiate, opioid, loperamide etc.) in case of diarrhea. Drugs affecting Serotonin (5-HT) in the intestine can help reduce symptoms. Serotonin prompts gut motility and so agonists can help irritable bowel. Antispasmodics can reduce cramps and diarrhea. Tricyclic antidepressants are also useful.
Lifestyle changes like improved sleep, regular exercise, and stress reduction can be very beneficial and effective.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Diet
Dietary changes are also advised, but no specific diet can be recommended for irritable bowel syndrome patients because of the varying symptoms. However, the following changes may help. Avoiding foods and drinks that stimulate the intestine. Avoiding large meals and increasing fiber in the diet. Consuming six to eight glasses of water is also important in this regard. IBS sufferers tend to have sensitive colons, so any food or drink that could possibly irritate or exacerbate the disorder should be avoided.
IBS is a very common disorder that is diagnosed by its symptoms and through careful elimination of other diseases as possible causes of the symptoms the patient presents. The symptoms in most cases can be controlled or at least managed to allow the patient to function normally. While irritable bowel syndrome does not lead to serious diseases like colorectal cancer or crohn’s disease it is important that any and all symptoms be conveyed to your doctor, even if they may seem minor.
Experts recommend a medical consultation with a physician if the following conditions occur: blood in stools, sudden weight loss, or if you are over the age of 40 and have a family history of bowel cancer or colon cancer. If you think you may have irritable bowel syndrome consult your physician so an effective course of action can be taken to remedy your symptoms.