Irritable Bowel Syndrome FAQ'S
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder of the intestines in which food passes either too quickly or too slowly through the digestive tract.
What are the Symptoms of IBS?
Symptoms of IBS can include any of the following:
- bloating and increased flatulence
- abdominal pain and tenderness
- mucus in the fecal matter
Typically, people have either predominantly diarrhea or constipation as their main symptom. Some people go through periods of both. Many people have periods of remission between bouts of the disease, whereas others experience symptoms continuously. For many people, food sensitivities play a role in IBS. When they eat food that they are sensitive to, their symptoms flare up. Women generally have worse symptoms during the time just before menstruation. Stress is also a key factor in producing symptoms, and many people find that their IBS is at its worst during times of stress.
What Causes IBS?
There is considerable debate about what causes IBS. Most medical professionals now believe that the problems stem from an error in the nervous communications between brain and intestinal tract. Somehow, the signals become garbled, and instead of the smooth, coordinated movement of the intestinal muscles seen in healthy individuals, those with IBS experience erratic movements of these muscles. Consequently, food is either rushed through, resulting in diarrhea, or passed excessively slowly, with constipation being the inevitable result. There appear to be genetic factors that put people at greater risk of developing IBS, although they may only play a small part in producing the syndrome. Women are much more likely than men to develop IBS, leading researchers to conclude that hormonal shift have something to do with the syndrome, but so far, this mechanism is poorly understood.
How is IBS Diagnosed?
IBS is referred to as a functional digestive disorder. This means that no physical cause can be found for the symptoms. When examined, the intestines appear healthy, and there are no discernible blood or nervous system abnormalities. For this reason, IBS is usually a diagnosis arrived at by the method of exclusion. Several other diseases have symptoms similar to IBS. Some of these, such as ulcerative cholitis, Crohn's disease, and cancer of the colon are very serious conditions. Therefore, it is important to perform tests necessary to exclude these conditions whenever IBS is suspected.
Can Lifestyle Affect IBS?
Lifestyle choices have a lot to do with the symptomatology of IBS. People who lead healthy lives, with balanced nutritional intake and plenty of exercise, usually deal with fewer symptoms and shorter periods of symptom expression with longer periods of remission in between. For people with food sensitivities, staying away from those foods can often alleviate symptoms. All IBS patients are recommended to avoid spicy foods, foods high in fat, and artificial sweeteners since they are all known to aggravate intestinal problems.
How is IBS Treated?
For many people with IBS, lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet, eating small meals throughout the day, regular exercise and stress management may be all that's necessary. When this is not enough, a physician may recommend eliminating foods known to cause gas and bloating such as fruits and vegetables, taking an anti-diarrheal medication to prevent excessive water loss due to diarrhea, and muscle relaxants or anti-cholinergics to calm the movement of the bowels