Understanding irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects the large intestine (colon). Also known as spastic colon, irritable bowel syndrome commonly causes cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation.
IBS is a chronic condition that you will need to manage long term. Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS affects mostly women. Only a small number of people with irritable bowel syndrome have severe signs and symptoms. Some people can control their symptoms by managing diet, lifestyle and stress while others require medication and even counseling. IBS tend to occur in people under age 45.
It’s not known exactly what causes irritable bowel syndrome, but a variety of factors play a role. The walls of the intestines are lined with layers of muscle that contract and relax in a coordinated rhythm as they move food from your stomach through your intestinal tract to your rectum in the form of stool. If you have irritable bowel syndrome, the contractions may be stronger and last longer than normal, causing gas, bloating and diarrhea.
Or the opposite may occur, with weak intestinal contractions slowing food passage and leading to hard, dry stools. Abnormalities in your gastrointestinal nervous system also play a role, causing you to experience greater than normal discomfort when your abdomen stretches from gas or stool. This is because the nerves, which make you feel sensations of pain, are exposed.
Poorly coordinated signals between the brain and the intestines can make your body overreact to the changes that normally occur in the digestive process. This overreaction can cause diarrhea or constipation accompanied by pulsating pain.
Triggers for IBS vary from person to person. Stimuli that don’t bother other people can trigger symptoms in people with IBS — but not all people with the condition react to the same stimuli. The role of food allergy or intolerance in irritable bowel syndrome is not yet clearly understood, but many people have more severe symptoms when they eat certain things.
A wide range of foods has been implicated — chocolate, spices, fats, fruits, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, milk, carbonated beverages and alcohol to name a few. Most people with IBS find that their signs and symptoms are worse or more frequent during periods of increased stress, such as finals week or the first weeks on a new job. But while stress may aggravate symptoms, it doesn’t cause them.
Because women are twice as likely to have IBS, researchers believe that hormonal changes play a role in this condition. Many women find that signs and symptoms are worse during or around their menstrual periods. Sometimes another illness, such as an acute episode of infectious diarrhea (gastroenteritis) or too many bacteria in the intestines (bacterial overgrowth), can trigger IBS.
Dr Madiha Sadie, from Ziauddin University says, ‘Anxiety, depression, a personality disorder and a history of childhood sexual abuse are risk factors. For women, domestic abuse may be a risk factor as well.’ Genetic susceptibility is also a risk factor.
Diarrhea and constipation, both signs of irritable bowel syndrome, can aggravate hemorrhoids. In addition, if you avoid certain foods, you may not get enough of the nutrients you need, leading to malnourishment. But the condition’s impact on your overall quality of life may be the most significant complication. These effects of IBS may cause you to feel you’re not living life to the fullest, leading to discouragement or depression.
The treatment of IBS doesn’t exist yet, as the cause of the syndrome is still unknown. It is however, possible to live a normal life by treating the symptoms. The most significant changes can be made to the diet by eliminating products containing gluten and high-gas food that causes bloating of the stomach especially cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.
Fiber supplements can be used to help in constipation, while anti-diarrheal medication can reduce loss of nutrients from the body. There are also medicines specific for IBS that may help relief pain and gastrointestinal distress.