Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Information on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms of pain and cramping due to a spastic colon.

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  1. What is an Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
  2. Diagnosing Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  3. What Causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
  4. Help for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  5. More Information on Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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 
  • Alcohol
  • 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 conrol the IBS-associated pain), anti-diarrhea medications, laxatives, and antispasmodic medication-- although many of these metdications have unwanted side effects and should be takenunder the supervision of your health care provider.

Alternative treatments include acupuncture, probiotics, colonic irrigation, as well as dietary and lifestyle changes.

More Information on Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Tips for Coping with Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Keep a diary and record of when your symptoms arise and what foods or other factors preceded them. If done regularly, you will learn a lot about the various things that trigger your IBS symptoms and you can avoid them in the future.
  • Try cutting out a number of food suspects such as dairy products, spicy food, wheat and fatty food for 3 weeks, then re-introduce them to your diet one by one to see if you have a reaction. Food triggers tend to be different for everyone, so use your diary to see which foods may be your likely suspects.
  • Ensure that you are getting sufficient fiber in your diet and consider increasing it with fruit, vegetables, whole grains and fiber supplements if necessary. Make sure to increase your daily water intake to no less than 8 glasses a day.
  • Try adjusting your meals so that you eat many smaller meals more often instead of fewer large meals.
  • Smoking and alcohol have both been implicated in IBS. Try to keep alcohol to a minimum (as it often causes diarrhea) and if you do smoke then consider quitting smoking naturally.
  • Manage your emotions. Stress, anxiety and depression are linked to irritable bowel syndrome. This is possibly due to the fact that serotonin (the same neurotransmitter involved in producing feelings of happiness) plays an important role in the digestive tract, controlling pain, intestinal movement, and the water excretion necessary to soften the stool. When serotonin levels are out of balance, IBS can flare up.
  • If you do feel that you aren’t coping with these emotions, consider making an appointment with a licensed counselor or clinical psychologist. Remember that natural remedies for depression and balancing serotonin levels are available and can be very effective.
  • Stress-relieving techniques can also be very beneficial. Try learning relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation, meditation or yoga.
  • Get regular exercise to help regulate bowel movements. Eat only small meals before an exercise session so you are less likely to be interrupted, and stick to moderate exercise rather than anything strenuous, which may trigger diarrhea.
  • Many people hide their IBS in embarrassment, which often causes isolation and relationship complications. Having IBS can be very disruptive, and many people find themselves becoming housebound and making excuses to friends, family, and employers.
  • Consider telling certain people of your condition, as you will generally find most people are extremely understanding and accommodating. Your friends will more than likely realize that you’re not avoiding them, and your boss will be more understanding as to why you seem to take so many breaks or sick days. Also, you may just find that you aren’t the only one to suffer with IBS, and gain a valuable support system!
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