Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common disorder that affects the colon-the large intestine. It causes muscle spasm, pain in the abdomen, bloating, gases, diarrhea and constipation. It is a chronic condition that needs to be treated for a long period of time.
Although the symptoms are not pleasant, the irritable bowel syndrome doesn’t alter the bowel tissue or increase the cancer risk.
Generally, most of the people with this condition manage to control the symptoms by going on a proper diet, changing their lifestyle and reducing stress. However, some will need medical care and maybe counseling as well, if the symptoms are severe.
The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome differ from person to person. They can also resemble to symptoms of other diseases. Some of the most common signs and symptoms are:
- Muscle cramping
- Pin in the abdomen
The symptoms can get worse from time to time, and sometimes they can improve or even disappear entirely.
Although the symptoms of IBS can be controlled, it is important to seek medical care if the person has obstinate change in bowel habits or experiences other symptoms such as: rectal bleeding, weight loss, pain in the abdomen that is worsening during the night, because they can indicate to more serious conditions as colon cancer.
The causes of irritable bowel syndrome are not well known, but a lot of different factors can affect this situation.
The layers of muscles that are covering the intestine walls are contracting and relaxing in a synchronized rhythm as they are moving the food from the stomach through the intestinal tract to the rectum. When suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, these contractions can become stronger and last longer than normally, what causes gas, bloating and diarrhea. The opposite can happen also, i.e. weak contractions are slowing the food passage what leads to hard and dry stools.
Also, abnormalities of the gastrointestinal nervous system can cause pain, diarrhea and constipation if the connection between the brain and the intestine is poor.
Triggers that are most common, but differ from person to person, are:
- A wide range of foods, some of which: fat, milk, spices, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, fruits, chocolate, carbonated beverages and alcohol
- Stress (most of the patients with IBS have found that the symptoms are worse during times of increased stress)
- Hormones (a lot of women have found out that the symptoms are worse during their menstrual periods)
- Some other illnesses, such as: gastroenteritis or bacterial overgrowth can trigger IBS
People are more prone to IBS, if:
- They are young-IBS usually affects people under the age of 45
- They are female-the number of women affected by this condition is twice as much as the number of men
- They have a family history, i.e. have family member with IBS
- They have a mental health problem, such as: anxiety, depression, personality disorder and history of childhood sexual abuse, or domestic abuse for women
Avoiding some foods may lead to malnutrition, and diarrhea and constipation to intensify hemorrhoids.
The most significant complication that may happen is discouragement or even depression, as a person with IBS may fell like he/she is not living the life to the fullest.
As it is not well known what can cause irritable bowel syndrome, the treatments focus on the relief of symptoms in order a person with IBS to live as normally as possible.
A person experiencing mild IBS symptoms can efficiently control the condition only by learning how to manage stress and making changes in the lifestyle and eating habits. People with mild symptoms should: avoid foods that trigger the symptoms, drink plenty of liquids, get enough sleep and reduce stress.
However, if the symptoms are more severe, more than simple lifestyle changes and medications are needed.
Changes in the eating habits:
- Eliminate foods high in gas (to reduce gas and bloating cut out carbonated beverages, vegetables, especially cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, and raw fruits)
- Eliminate gluten (wheat, barley and rye)
- Eliminate FODMAP foods (types of carbohydrates such as: fructose, fructans, lactose and others that are found in certain grains, vegetables, fruits and dairy products)
- Fiber supplements
- Anti-diarrheal medications
- Antispasmodic medications
- Counseling (if stress worsens the symptoms or the patient becomes depressed)
If a person suffers from irritable bowel syndrome, problems like pain in the abdomen and diarrhea are more frequent and more severe after stressful situations, so finding a way to cope with the stress may help ease the symptoms.
Some helpful advices:
- Counseling-psychologist or psychiatrist can help in the process of learning how to cope with and reduce the stress
- Relaxation exercises and biofeedback-help the muscles to relax and reduce muscle tension
- Deep breathing-makes the person calmer
- Mindfulness training-a technique that helps the stress to reduce by focusing on being in the moment and letting go of worries and distractions
- Other-listening to music, soaking in bathtub, reading, etc.