Irritable Bowel Syndrome, also referred to as IBS, is a very common disorder affecting the large intestine, or colon.
Individuals with IBS often experience abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, cramping, diarrhea, and gas. This is a chronic condition that will require long-term treatment to manage.
You should know that though the signs and symptoms of IBS can be quite uncomfortable, it does not cause changes in your bowel tissue or increase your risk for colorectal cancer. Other conditions, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis do increase your risk.
A very small number of individuals with irritable bowel syndrome will experience severe symptoms and signs.
Some individuals can control their symptoms by managing their diet, lifestyle, and stress. Other individuals may require counseling and even medication.
Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Just as with any other disease/disorder, the signs and symptoms of IBS vary from person to person and sometimes may resemble the signs and symptoms of other diseases/disorders. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of IBS include the following:
- Abdominal cramping/pain
- Feeling bloated
- Diarrhea or constipation- sometimes alternating
- Mucus in stool
In most cases, IBS is a chronic condition, and there will be times when the signs and symptoms will seem much worse, and other times where it will seem as if they have improved or disappeared totally.
However, you should know that IBS will not get worse over time and will not cause or increase your risk for more serious disorders or cancer.
Though IBS is quite common- as many as 1 in 5 adults has signs and symptoms- every few people will actually seek medical attention.
However, if you are experiencing changes in your bowel habits or have any of the other above signs and symptoms, you should seek medical attention because you could have a more serious condition such as cancer.
Signs and symptoms that could indicate that your condition is more serious include:
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain that gets worse or happens at night
Your physician may be able to help you to find ways to relieve symptoms as well as rule out any other conditions, such as cancer or inflammatory bowel disease. He/she can also help you to avoid complications with your disorder.
Cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Though it’s not clear what causes irritable bowel syndrome, there are a variety of factors that seem to be involved with this disorder.
Your intestines are lined with muscles that contract and relax in a coordinated rhythm as the move the food from your stomach through the intestinal tract to your rectum.
If you have abnormalities in your gastrointestinal nervous system, this could contribute to IBS, causing greater discomfort than typical when your abdomen is stretching from gas or stool.
When signals between the brain and intestines are poorly coordinated, your body can overreact to the changes that will normally occur in the process of digestion- which could result in pain, constipation, or diarrhea.
Triggers for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Things that wouldn’t bother someone without irritable bowel syndrome can trigger symptoms in those who do have IBS. However, not everyone will have the same reactions to the same triggers. Common IBS triggers include the following:
It’s not yet clearly understood exactly the role that food allergies and intolerances play in IBS, but it is know that symptoms seem to be more severe in some individuals when they consume certain things.
There are many foods that are on this list including: alcohol, beans, broccoli, cabbage, carbonated drinks, cauliflower, chocolate, fats, fruits, milks, and spices.
These are just a few of the foods that can trigger IBS, there are many others that could possibly cause problems.
Many individuals with irritable bowel syndrome notice that their symptoms seem to be much worse or occur more frequently during periods of intense stress, such as the first few weeks on a new job or finals week in school.
However, though stress does seem to aggravate the signs and symptoms, you can be sure that it does not cause them.
Since it has been proven that women tend to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome much more often than men, some researchers believe that hormones are somehow involved in this disorder.
Some women have noticed that their symptoms seem to flare up and get worse during their menstrual periods.
In some cases, other illnesses, such as acute diarrhea or too much bacteria in the intestines can trigger irritable bowel syndrome.
Risk Factors for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Most people will have an occasional occurrence of the signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
However, you’re more likely to experience this disorder if you have the following characteristics:
- Young: Typically, IBS occurs in individuals under the age of 45
- Female: More women than men will experience this disorder
- Family History: Individuals who have a family history of IBS are more likely to develop this condition. This could be due to genetics, shared environmental factors, or a combination of both.
Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome
In most cases, it’s best to treat the root of the problem instead of the symptoms. However since it’s not really clear what exactly causes IBS, the treatment is more focused on relieving symptoms so that you’re able to live a normal life.
In most cases, mild signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can be effectively controlled by simply managing stress and making a few diet and lifestyle changes.
If there are specific foods that you know trigger your symptoms, try to avoid those. If you’re not sure, try eliminating known triggers and then slowly introduce them back into your diet to see if they trigger symptoms.
If they do, you’ll know to leave them out of your diet completely. Additionally, you should try to make sure you’re getting plenty of exercise, drinking at least 64 ounces of water per day, and getting enough rest.
If, on the other hand, your signs and symptoms are much more severe, you’ll probably need more help than simply changing your diet and lifestyle. You may need medications to control your symptoms.