For many people, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic, gastrointestinal (GI) condition. It is extremely common and affects the large intestine, or colon, causing many painful symptoms.
Luckily, IBS doesn’t cause permanent damage to the colon, however it can interfere with normal functioning.
It is also one of the rare chronic conditions that doesn’t involve inflammation, which poses the risk of further complications.
IBS is easily manageable through attention to lifestyle decisions and conscious control over pain. For this reason, IBS doesn’t have to change a person’s life. In fact, it can be overcome with the right treatment, making it a manageable nuisance.
Are All Cases of IBS Created Equal?
IBS has four major subtypes, all of which have different challenges during treatment. The four major subtypes of IBS include IBS with constipation (IBS-C), IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D), Mixed IBS (IBS-M) and unsubtyped IBS (IBS-U).
The differences between each type involve the consistency of stools and how frequently they occur.
In IBS with constipation, hard or lumpy stools occur at least 25 percent of the time and loose or watery stools occur less than 25 percent of the time.
In IBS with diarrhea, loose or watery stools happen at least 25 percent of the time and hard or lumpy stools happen less than 25 percent of the time.
Mixed IBS is characterized by hard or lumpy and loose or watery stools at least 25 percent of the time.
Unsubtyped IBS implies that a person suffers from hard or lumpy stools or loose or watery stools less than 25 percent of the time.
If a person feels that they fall into any of these categories, they should contact their doctor in order to address the symptoms and see if IBS is the problem.
So, What is the GI Tract?
Because IBS is a gastrointestinal condition, the main area of the body affected is the GI tract.
The GI tract is a series of hollow organs joined by different structures from the mouth to the anus. Hormones, enzymes and muscle contractions allow for the digestion of food, which is absorbed along the tract itself.
The large intestine, or colon, is in integral part of the process as it changes waste from food into a solid matter called stool.
Complications with stool, such as what is experienced in individuals with IBS, are indicative of complications with the digestive process itself.
The condition of one’s stool can help to narrow down what type of IBS a person might be experiencing, making it easier to treat in the long run.
Bottom Line: Causes of IBS
IBS, like many other chronic conditions, does not have many well-understood causes.
However, through research and case studies, professionals have come to the conclusion that the condition is most likely caused by a combination of physical and mental issues.
Additionally, researchers have been able to better narrow down the causes of the condition through this research, positing some suggestions as to the etiology of IBS.
Physical conditions that may predispose one to IBS involve brain-gut signal problems, GI motor problems and hypersensitivity to the stretching of the bowel.
Brain-gut signal problems are the most exemplary of the physical and mental combination of many of the issues involved with IBS.
This cause involves a miscommunication between the brain and the nerves of the intestines, which can cause changes in bowel habits and discomfort. Additionally, GI motor problems can cause hyperactivity, which can be exacerbated by hypersensitivity.
Other causes of IBS include mental health problems, chemicals throughout the body and food sensitivity.
GI hormones are different in people with IBS, especially in women during menstruation of after going through menopause.
Also, certain foods or beverages can further aggravate conditions that underlie IBS, causing poor absorption of nutrients. In combination with each other, these factors seriously worsen the symptoms of IBS.
Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
To meet the definition of IBS, symptoms must persist for at least three days of the month. For those with more chronic forms of the condition, however, symptoms will be much more frequent.
The symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain or discomfort accompanied by changes in bowel habits.
To qualify as IBS, two of three symptoms must be present including bowel movements that occur more or less often than usual, stool that appears different in consistency than usual and the lessening of pain as a bowel movement occurs.
There are many other symptoms that are also indicative of IBS. Some of these symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, the feeling that a bowel movement is incomplete, passing mucus and abdominal bloating.
Many of these symptoms will occur after eating a meal, especially if a person’s type of IBS includes trouble with bowel movements.
Diagnosis is Just a Physical Exam Away
Luckily for those suffering from the symptoms of IBS, diagnosis is fairly straightforward and defined by a variety of different possible tests.
For IBS to be diagnosed, symptoms must have started at least six months prior to the appointment and for at least three days monthly for the previous three months.
Typically, tests are fairly simple, but should a patient display signs of fever, rectal bleeding, anemia or a family history of colon cancer, further tests may be required.
Some tests that might also be used include stool tests, lower GI series or a colonoscopy.
A stool test is the most likely test to be executed because it can further determine what kinds of bacteria might be present in the body and causing IBS.
One step further might entail the lower GI series test, which is an x-ray exam that allows doctors to look at the large intestine. Furthermore, a colonoscopy can be used to view the rectum and the entire colon.
Many diagnoses do not entail more than a physical exam as IBS is characterized by distinct guidelines and symptoms. However, it is important for a person to remain cognizant that additional testing may be required.
Temporary Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
The one key aspect of IBS for people to remember is that there is no cure. However, there are treatments available to lessen the symptoms associated with the condition.
One of the best steps that a person can take is to remain extremely aware of their eating, diet and general nutrition.
Larger meals make it extremely likely that a person will experience cramping a diarrhea.
Therefore, smaller meals lessen the chances of experiencing the pain of IBS. Also, meals that are low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates, such as whole-grains, may help.
The most important foods to avoid include foods high in fat, dairy and milk products, drinks with alcohol or caffeine, drinks with high amounts of artificial sweeteners and foods that may cause gas.
Medications may also help to lessen a person’s symptoms. Commonly prescribed medications include fiber supplements, laxatives, antidiarrheals and antidepressants.
One of the most important functions of such medications is to relieve the suffering associated with constipation.
On the other end of the spectrum, antidiarrheals can help reduce stool frequency and improve consistency by slowing the movement of waste through the large intestine.
Antidepressants lessen the general pain experienced in the GI tract for people with IBS, as well as normalizing secretion.
Therapies are a final option for people seeking relief for their IBS symptoms. Some choices for therapy include talk therapy, hypnotherapy and mindfulness training.
Talk therapy is one of the most beneficial forms of IBS therapy because talking with someone may lessen stress and subsequently improve symptoms.
Hypnotherapy also helps a person relax through hypnosis, also easing the muscles of the colon.
Mindfulness training is one final option for those with IBS, which teaches individuals to focus their attention on sensations rather than their associated meanings.
This is a good option because many people grow concerned when considering what the symptoms mean in terms of damage to their body.
Points to Remember and Hope for the Future
A key part of IBS to remember is that it does not wreak havoc on the colon or the GI tract.
Although it changes the way in which the GI tract functions, no damage is done. While the condition results in discomfort and pain, there is hope for the 3 to 20 percent of the population affected by the disorder.
The lack of research into the etiology of IBS is evolving, as more and more studies are conducted to narrow down specific causes, which can benefit treatment in the future.
For now, treatment that targets specific symptoms is also extremely helpful. However, people who struggle to lead normal lives due to the chronic pain of their condition can find solace through medication, nutrition and therapy.
There is hope for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Although it is often a chronic ailment, gaining control over one’s body and the symptoms of the condition can greatly improve the symptoms being experienced.
IBS is both a cognitive and physical sensation. Therefore, by addressing all components of the disorder through various, consistent forms of treatment, relief can be granted and IBS can be a distant worry not worthy of concern.