Irritable Bowel Syndrome

A disorder marked by frequent bloating, constipation, and diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome affects the lives of one in five Americans. IBS is a functional disorder of the bowels. It is classified as a syndrome because an IBS patient usually experiences all of the symptoms of bloating, abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea, and chronic constipation at one time or another. Many more women than men suffer from the disorder and it predominately affects younger women in their 20's.

Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome is caused by abnormal contractions of the lining of the intestines. The muscles in the intestines spasm and result in constipation or diarrhea. It has been speculated that irritable bowel syndrome results from sensitive nerves in the bowel, central nervous system or hormonal fluctuations in women.

In addition to the physiological theories, certain foods and drinks are also thought to aggravate IBS. These can include caffeine, dairy products and alcohol. Chronic stress can make IBS worse and an illness, like infectious diarrhea, may lead to the development of the disorder.

Signs and Symptoms of IBS
There are a variety of symptoms associated with IBS and can include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Mucus in stools

Diagnosis of IBS
To figure out if you actually have IBS, your doctor will need to document your medical history and complete a physical exam. To be diagnosed with IBS, you must have at least two of the following criteria:

  • stomach pain, diarrhea and constipation for at least 12 weeks
  • change in the regularity of your bowel movement or stool consistency
  • bloating, abdominal pain
  • stool mucus

Your doctor may also decide to perform several tests to investigate your intestinal problem. She may ask for a stool sample to be examined for infection or other digestive problems. Some other tests that may be done are:

  • flexible sigmoidoscopy
  • colonoscopy
  • computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • lactose intolerance test
  • blood tests

Flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy both examine your colon while a CT scan looks at your internal organs. The lactose intolerance test checks to see if you are missing the enzyme lactase and blood tests can rule out other diseases.

Medical Treatment of IBS
Since it is still not clear exactly what causes irritable bowel syndrome, there is only treatment for the symptoms of the disorder. Your doctor may advise you to see a nutritionist to devise an IBS diet, and may prescribe supplements and medications to help control your diarrhea and constipation. Some medications your doctor may prescribe you are:

  • Imodium for diarrhea
  • anticholinergic medication for painful bowel movements
  • certain antidepressant drugs that can help with stomach pain, diarrhea and constipation

IBS Diet and Lifestyle
Many people have been able to find relief from their symptoms of IBS by making changes in their diet, exercising and counseling.

  • Increase your fiber intake with whole grains, fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid caffeine and carbonated sodas, fatty foods, sweeteners, raw fruits and vegetables
  • Exercise on a daily basis to relieve stress and regulate bowel movements
  • Eat small meals at regular times throughout the day which may help to regulate bowel movements
  • Drink plenty of water to regulate digestion of food
  • Seek counseling if you have chronic anxiety and stress
  • Enroll in relaxation, meditation or yoga classes to ease stress

Alternative Treatments
Some people suffering from IBS have found alternative treatments like acupuncture, hypnosis, herbs, like peppermint, and probiotics to relieve IBS symptoms and to promote healthy intestine and bowel function.

Pregnancy and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Women with IBS often complain that their IBS symptoms get worse with the onset of menstruation. Since so many more women than men suffer from IBS, it is generally thought that hormones play a significant role in the disorder.

Most women with ibs are able to get pregnant and have a healthy normal pregnancy. However, if you are considering getting pregnant, you should be aware how your IBS medication will affect your baby. Talk to your doctor about your pregnancy plans and the best course of treatment to get your IBS under control.

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