Stress & IBS: Is This The Cause?
Stress comes in many forms. Stress can be caused by a difficult marriage, a strict budget, a deadline at work, a traffic jam, health concerns, a disabled child, abuse, surprise guests, a bill, a death in the family or a stain on one's new blouse. While these stresses all differ in scope and magnitude, they all have their affect on a person's health and well-being. As scientists have long known, there is a definite brain-gut connection. Most people have realized this when they have experience the feeling of "butterflies" while anticipating a stressful event. While stress seems to affect a person's gut, is stress the cause for Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
How Many People Are Affected by IBS?
Every person is affected by stress, but not everyone has IBS. IBS is second to colds for adults missing work and school. It is estimated that ten to twenty percent of the U.S. population exhibit symptoms of IBS but that only about half of them see a doctor about it. Annually, IBS is the cause of 3.5 million doctor visits, and it is the number one diagnosis in gastroenterologists' offices. IBS affects more women than men, and the onset is usually when someone is in their early twenties. Many people with IBS have an early history of trauma, which may include physical or sexual abuse.
What is IBS?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a brain-gut disorder that causes abdominal pain or cramping, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, mucus in the stools or a sensation that the bowels are not completely emptied. It is also called spastic colon, spastic colitis and mucous colitis. The colon is partially controlled by the nervous system, and the nervous system responds to stress. There is also evidence that the immune system may play a role in IBS symptoms. Symptoms come about when the colon spasms or even stops working for a time. The lining of the colon-responsible for the movement of fluids through the colon-becomes affected by the nervous and immune system and does not work properly. This allows either too much fluid through at one time, causing diarrhea, or too little, causing constipation.
How is IBS Diagnosed?
There is no specific test that can find IBS. For IBS to be diagnosed, other conditions causing similar symptoms have to be eliminated. Certain criteria have to be met for IBS to be diagnosed. The patient had to have abdominal pain at least twelve weeks out of the past fifty-two, and the patient has to have at least two of the following three symptoms. The abdominal pain would be resolved after having a bowel movement, and when the symptoms began, there had to have been a change in the frequency of the patient's bowel movement or the appearance of the stool.
Is Stress the Cause for IBS?
Research has not determined the cause of IBS. Stress is a factor and can exacerbate the symptoms. The chemical changes in the brain after exposure to stress are thought to be a trigger for the wrong signals sent to the gut, which influences the movement of food through the gastrointestinal tract. However, stress is not the root cause of IBS.