What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Twenty percent of all American adults suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In some people, the symptoms are so mild that they fail to realize that they have a problem. In others, they can be severe and debilitating.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
IBS is a disorder of the digestive system. Most people rely on the rhythmic movement of the smooth muscles of the intestines to move food and liquid through the digestive tract. In people with IBS, something goes wrong, and the muscles start cramping and moving irregularly. This results in pain and problems with excretion.
Symptoms of IBS
There are three kinds of IBS: diarrhea predominant, constipation predominant and alternating diarrhea and constipation. Those with the diarrhea predominant type will have loose and watery bowel movements, frequent and sudden urges to pass bowel movements, and cramping and pain in the abdomen. People who have the constipation predominant type share the pain and cramping with their diarrhea afflicted counterparts, but instead of loose stool, they usually have very hard stool and often have difficulty having bowel movements. Because of this, they also suffer from bloating and gassiness. Some people have a combination of both the diarrhea and constipation types. They experience both symptoms at different times, but usually have more of one or the other. Most people also switch between types over the course of the illness. This can make it difficult to diagnose the condition.
How is IBS Diagnosed?
There are no observable physical abnormalities in the intestines of people with IBS. There is no inflammation or damage. This can make it difficult to identify the condition. Many other, more serious, conditions share symptoms with IBS, so it is very important to eliminate these possibilities before arriving at a diagnosis of IBS. Once all other possibilities have been exhausted, a diagnosis of IBS is usually given based on symptoms and symptom history.
Who Gets IBS?
IBS occurs much more frequently in women than in men, with the reported rate varying between two to one to four to one. Part of this variance in ratios is caused by the fact that different statisticians make different approximations about the rate of under reporting in men. Men are less likely than women to seek help for IBS. Whatever the case may be, there is still a true gender relationship in this disease. Many scientists believe that the hormonal shifts of a regularly ovulating woman may contribute to the etiology of the disease. Nutritional intake during the prenatal period may also play a role in determining a person's risk for IBS. Babies who are born significantly underweight are 2.5 times more likely to develop the syndrome than those of normal weight. It could be that a dearth of nutrients causes the digestive system to develop in a way that makes it inefficient and prone to problems. Finally, genetics seem to play a part for some people, although just how important genetics are to IBS is difficult to determine, in part because the disorder is so common.
Treatment of IBS
Many people benefit from simple lifestyle changes such as getting regular exercise and eating healthy foods. Others require over-the-counter or prescription medications. Anti-diarrheal medications can help reduce fluid loss, and for those with painful cramping, muscle relaxants and anti-cholinergic can usually relieve the symptoms.