Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common long-term condition that affects the digestive system. It is slightly more common in women than men, and usually starts in early adulthood, but it can occur at any age according to many gastroenterologists.
Irritable bowel syndrome affects the gut, and more specifically the large bowel or colon. To understand how it works, you need to know how the digestive system works.
When you eat food, it passes through your digestive tract, including your stomach and small bowel, before it reaches the large bowel. During this journey, food is being broken down and absorbed into the body. To keep the food moving through the system, the wall of the bowel squeezes in on itself in a rhythmic way, slowly pushing its contents through. In IBS, the gut wall becomes more sensitive and excitable. The contractions sometimes occur too quickly, causing diarrhea, or they occur too slowly, causing constipation.
Although irritable bowel syndrome can cause a great deal of discomfort, it does not harm the intestines. In Irritable bowel syndrome, the function of the gut is upset, yet all parts of the gut look normal, even when looked at under a microscope.
The symptoms of Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) vary from person to person. They include:
- Mild or severe abdominal pain, discomfort, or cramping usually goes away after a bowel movement. The pain usually comes and goes. The length and severity of each bout of pain can vary greatly. The pain often eases when you pass stools (feces) or wind. Many people with Irritable bowel syndrome describe the pain as a spasm or colic.
- Periods of diarrhea or constipation, or alternating between these two symptoms
- Bloating, gassiness, or a feeling of having a distended abdomen
- Mucus in bowel movements
- Feeling as though a bowel movement is incomplete
- Changes in the stool may become small and pellet-like or watery or looser. There may be a feeling of not emptying the back passage (rectum) after going to the toilet. Some people have urgency, which means they have to get to the toilet quickly. You may feel an urgent need to go to the toilet several times shortly after getting up.
Other symptoms of Irritable bowel syndrome which sometimes occur are:
- Feeling sick (nausea)
- Poor appetite
- Muscle pains
- Feeling quickly full after eating
Some people have occasional mild symptoms. Others have unpleasant symptoms for long periods. Many people fall somewhere in between, with flare-ups of symptoms from time to time. When flare-ups do happen, they can impact daily life, which can be frustrating.
We do not know exactly what causes irritable bowel syndrome, but a number of possible triggers have been identified, including:
- Stress and emotion
- Infections such as gastroenteritis
- Certain medications
These are thought to affect the way the nervous system interacts with the gut.
Read an interesting Blog on How Stress can be fatal to Immune System
Diagnosis and Treatment
There aren’t any tests that detect irritable bowel syndrome. However, your gastroenterologist can look for a pattern in your symptoms. Also, your gastroenterologist can order tests to rule out other problems. These tests may include a blood test, a stool test, a colonoscopy, or X-rays of your lower GI tract.
- IBS does not require surgery, and it won’t shorten your life and treatment is different for everyone. You may need to try several options to find the one that works for you. Many people with mild symptoms don’t need any treatment in certain cases and some steps often ease symptoms and improve your quality of life. Such as:
- Finding ways to relax and reduce stress levels
- Doing regular exercise
- Changing your diet may improve symptoms dramatically. The way you eat may be aiding the disease. Some common trigger foods include:
- Cabbage, broccoli, kale, legumes, and other gas-producing foods
- Dairy products
- Fatty foods, including whole milk, cream, cheese, butter, oils, meats, and avocados
- Raw fruits
- Foods, gums, and beverages that contain sorbitol, an artificial sweetener
- Keeping a symptom diary. It may help to keep a food and lifestyle diary for 2-4 weeks to monitor symptoms and activities.
If you experience any symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome, consult an expert gastroenterologist to get a check-up done at Regency. We have a dedicated department led by expert gastroenterologists that treat conditions such as Irritable bowel syndrome and many more and we are here for your service always.