What is an Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is something that people often find difficult to talk about, yet it is one of the most common digestive conditions seen by doctors. It is estimated to affect approximately 20% of the US population.
This problem with the bowels and large intestine is characterized by recurring bouts of abdominal pain or discomfort, as well as intermittent diarrhea and/or constipation, making IBS a very frustrating condition to live with. Other symptoms include abdominal bloating and cramping, gas, nausea, headaches, fatigue, and an urgency to empty the bowels.
Diagnosing Irritable Bowel Syndrome
There is no single test that can be done to confirm IBS, and so the diagnostic process is essentially one of elimination. Your health care practitioner will take a detailed medical history from you and inquire about all of your symptoms, which will be checked against the diagnostic criteria for IBS.
In addition to this, a number of tests can be done to rule out other possible conditions that may present itself in a similar way to IBS. Some conditions that mimic IBS include food allergies, intestinal infections, parasites, colon cancer, Crohn’s disease, an inflammation or blockage of the colon, and other digestion problems.
Your physician will be able to determine which tests are necessary according to a number of factors such as age, the symptoms present, and the severity of the symptoms. Some of these tests include a complete blood count, a stool sample analysis, urinalysis, liver function tests, a rectal exam, abdominal X-rays, and/or a colonoscopy.
What causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome has no obvious cause, although symptoms seem to be related to abnormal muscle contractions or spasms of the lower part of the colon. They are thought to involve problems in communication between the bowel and the brain.
Diet and stress seem to be common triggers of the condition. Keeping this in mind, symptoms can be greatly reduced by managing stress and anxiety levels, and keeping note of certain foods that may aggravate your condition.
Other Factors that Contribute to IBS
Other factors that may contribute to IBS include smoking, sensitivity to foods (especially dairy), overeating, eating irregularly or too quickly, use of antibiotics and other prescription drugs, candida overgrowth, as well as hormonal changes (most commonly during the menstrual cycle).
As IBS is often affected by diet, many people have found that eliminating or reducing certain foods from their diet can greatly relieve symptoms.
Common trigger foods often include:
- Spicy and fatty foods
- High-gas vegetables such as beans, cabbage, and cauliflower
- Caffeinated drinks, including tea and coffee
- Artificial sweeteners that contain sorbitol and aspartame
In addition, it may help to increase your daily intake of dietary fiber and to drink plenty of water in order to regularly flush out toxins and detox your body.
Help for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
A diagnosis of IBS need not mean a life-long struggle with on-going discomfort. There are a number of treatment options that you can explore to help you manage IBS flare-ups, deal with the symptoms, and lead a normal life.
Medical treatment usually involves anti-depressants (especially to control the IBS-associated pain), anti-diarrhea medications, laxatives, and antispasmodic medication-- although many of these medications have unwanted side effects and should be takenunder the supervision of your health care provider.
Alternative treatments include acupuncture, herbal and homeopathic remedies, probiotics, colonic irrigation, as well as dietary and lifestyle changes.
While there are many synthetic over-the-counter and prescription medicines to treat digestive complaints and disorders such as IBS, they tend to come with side effects and can lead to disruptions in delicate body systems.
Among other things, they can cause a weakened immune system, electrolyte imbalances and a disruption in intestinal flora-- all of which may ultimately worsen the problems associated with IBS. For these reasons, many people have started to turn to natural remedies to treat IBS and other related conditions.
Herbal ingredients such as German Chamomile, Meadowsweet, Ulmus fulva and Sutherlandia frutescens have anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and digestive-health properties that make it an effective preventative for IBS flare ups. In addition to this, a number of herbal ingredients work to immediately relieve IBS symptoms.
Mentha piperita in particular has become widely known as a treatment for IBS, as this herb works by relieving cramps and gently relaxing the muscles of the digestive tract-- thus effectively calming irritable bowels and reducing stomach pain.
Other beneficial herbs include Ginger, Fennel and Pelargoneum graveolens. Remember to always source your natural remedies from a reputable company to ensure maximum effectiveness, safety, and correct therapeutic dosage.