What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a disorder that affects the large intestine or colon. It causes abdominal pain, diarrhea and changes in your bowel movement. The U.S. National Library of Medicine states,
“About 1 in 6 people in the U.S. have symptoms of IBS. It is the most common intestinal problem that causes patients to be referred to a bowel specialist (gastroenterologist).”
IBS is usually not extremely serious and doesn’t cause permanent damage to your large intestine. The symptoms of the disorder can be controlled by either medication or changes in your diet such as eating more fibrous food. A small percentage of people can experience more severe symptoms that may be crippling to their everyday lives. The disorder affects more women than men, possibly due to the hormonal changes women go through. Many are diagnosed with the disorder before the age of 35 and have a relative with irritable bowel syndrome. Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition. For some people, the condition may worsen with time and for others, the condition completely disappears.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the most common signs and symptoms of the irritable bowel syndrome are as follows:
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Diarrhea or constipation
- A feeling of fullness
- Mucus in the stool
- Changes in bowel movement patterns
These symptoms vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe. Often times, symptoms may decrease with a bowel movement. IBS may cause you to experience a loss of appetite.
Cause(s) of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
The cause of irritable bowel syndrome is not known. Some documented risk factors of the condition include being young, being female and having a family member with IBS. People of all ages can be diagnosed with the disorder. It can arise after a person has experienced an infection of the intestine. With irritable bowel syndrome, food is forced into your intestine either more quickly than normal or slower than normal. The result of food moving more quickly into the intestine is diarrhea and the result from food moving more slowly into the intestine is constipation or dry and hard stool.
Tests and Diagnosis
Currently, there are no tests to accurately diagnose irritable bowel syndrome. Your doctor may perform a full physical exam as well as complete a medical history. Most of the time, diagnosis is the result of the process of elimination of other diseases. IBS has a tendency to mimic other diseases such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or colon cancer. Mayo Clinic provides a list and description of tests that may be taken to diagnose irritable bowel syndrome in the following:
- Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD or upper endoscopy) or Colonoscopy. In some cases, your doctor may perform these diagnostic tests, in which a small, flexible tube is used to examine the stomach or the entire length of the colon.
- Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan. CT scans produce cross-sectional X-ray images of internal organs. CT scans of your abdomen and pelvis may help your doctor rule out other causes of your symptoms.
- Lactose intolerance tests. Lactase is an enzyme you need to digest the sugar (lactose) found in dairy products. If you don’t produce this enzyme, you may have problems similar to those caused by irritable bowel syndrome, including abdominal pain, gas and diarrhea. To find out if this is the cause of your symptoms, you doctor may order a breath test to ask you to exclude milk and milk products from your diet for several weeks.
- Blood tests. Celiac disease (non-tropical sprue) is sensitivity to wheat protein that also may cause signs and symptoms like those of irritable bowel syndrome. Blood may help rule out that disorder.
Treatments for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome can usually be treated by managing the symptoms of the condition. Some lifestyle changes/treatment options are as follows:
- Eating more fibrous foods to reduce the occurrence of constipation. Foods with fiber include whole grain bread and pastas, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds.
- Eating smaller meals will make it easier for your intestinal system to digest your food faster and make you feel better.
- Avoiding foods that may exacerbate your symptoms such as alcohol, caffeinated drinks and dairy products.
- Avoiding stress may relieve the symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome.
- Taking medication(s) specially prescribed for irritable bowel syndrome. The medications include but are not limited to the following: alosetron for diarrhea and lubiprostone for constipation.
People look towards alternative medicine when traditional modern medicine may not be effective inrelieving the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine provides a list of treatments to aide with symptoms of the disorder, including the following:
- Herbal remedies
- Peppermint Oil
- Relaxation Therapies
About Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD)
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Irritable Bowel Syndrome – U.S. National Library of Medicine
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Definitions – Mayo Clinic
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This article is written by Hang Pham. Hang Pham is a Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance Health and Wellness Educator. Hang Pham was born in Hoc Mon, Vietnam. She came to America in 1994, becoming a U.S. citizen in 2011. Hang graduated from Seaside High School with diploma and received her AA in General Studies from Monterey Peninsula College in 2011. She received her BA in Collaborative Health and Human Services from California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) in 2012. In addition to working as a volunteer staff with the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance, she currently works as a Clerical Aid in the Human Resources Department of Salinas City Hall.
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