Our intestine is almost seven meters long and its last tract is the colon. Professor Silvio Danese, Supervisor of the Intestinal Chronic Inflammatory Diseases Center, spoke about irritable colon and, more generally, about the irritable bowel syndrome, at Rai3’s programme “Tutta salute”.

The irritable bowel syndrome is an increasingly frequent condition, as Professor Danese explains. “In medicine, a syndrome is a group of symptoms or signs that are common to many diseases, as in the case of the irritable bowel syndrome. Many people may mistake its signs and symptoms with those of other diseases”.

What are the symptoms?

“There are many symptoms. Intestinal irregularities are one of them. As patients say, they alternately suffer from diarrhea and constipation and very often, they feel  pains in their belly or bloating (meteorism).

There may also be symptoms outside the intestine. Headaches, irritability, concentration disorders and malaise.

Symptoms appear in a chronic fluctuating pattern, thus there may be recovery periods and then worsening periods. Patients report that symptoms generally worsen when they are very stressed.

An irritable bowel is the second reason why people ask for a day off, after the common cold”.

What are the causes?

“We don’t know many causes, but it is obvious that alterations in intestinal motility play a role. In the past, this disease had the name “spastic colon”, because there is an alteration in the intestinal function. And then there is an alteration in the microbiota, that is to say, the intestinal flora. Not just bacteria, but everything that is part of it”.

How can the irritable bowel syndrome be cured?

“Right now, thanks to modern medicine, we can keep this syndrome’s symptoms under control, but there is a long way before we can think of a cure. Gastroenterologists have to work like tailors and try to tailor the dress according to each patient’s symptoms, because they are really different. For instance, if the patient suffers mainly from diarrhea, they will need medications to reduce their intestine’s motility. On the contrary, if their intestine is more sluggish, they will need motility-enhancing medications. This means, medicines according to one’s specific symptoms”, the professor points out.

The role of nutrition

“Nutrition is really important. In fact, there are foods that do not get digested properly (FODMAPs), draw water and cause bloating and abdominal tension, thus causing many symptoms to the patients”, Professor Danese points out.

Patients should avoid FODMAPs for a certain amount of time and then take them gradually in small portions.

  • F or Fermentable,
  • O for Oligosaccharides (sugars contained in gluten-rich cereals and legumes)
  • D gor Disaccharides (in milk and derivates)
  • M for Monosaccharides (simple sugars contained in fruit, fruit juices and honey) and
  • P for Polyhydric alcohols (in mushrooms, cauliflowers and artificial sweeteners).