Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a condition affecting the colon or large intestine and is thought to affect one in five adults. The large intestine connects your small bowel to your anus and absorbs nutrients, water and salt. By the action of peristalsis or muscle contraction the large bowel moves waste out of the body. In IBS this peristaltic action is altered and either too slows resulting in constipation, too strong resulting in diarrhea or both alternately. Gas, bloating, abdominal pain and a sense of not fully evacuating the bowel may also be present. Irritable bowel syndrome can vary from being just an aggravation to being very disabling and resulting in lost time from work and lifestyle effects. People with sever symptoms may have problems in all areas of their lives.
No cause or cure for irritable bowel syndrome has been definitively discovered. However there is treatment for the symptoms and much has been learned about what triggers attacks. Each person however is different. What affects one person with the disorder may not affect another. Careful observation of symptoms is required to determine what your triggers are and avoid them.
IBS generally occurs before age 35 and occurs more often in women. Other risk factor includes anxiety, depression, previous bacterial bowel infections, and prolonged fever. There also seems to be a high correlation of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and migraines with irritable bowel syndrome. A study done by the Journal of Gastroenterology 1993, coined the phrase “brain gut response to stress” and postulated IBS was related to cholinergic responses. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that delivers message from one part of the body to another and is known to play a part in depression has also been implicated.
Triggers for irritable bowel syndrome include large meals, high fat meals, caffeine, carbonated beverages, chocolate, white sugar, stress, dairy and foods such as beans, cabbage , cauliflower and broccoli. Treatment is aimed at changes in lifestyle to avoid triggers as well as increasing soluble fiber in the diet. Medications such as Imodium for diarrhea and librax for bowel spasm may be prescribed. Soluble fiber such as psyllium is recommended. Fiber should be added to the diet slowly. Meditation, exercise and other stress relief modalities can decrease symptoms related to stress. Holistic practitioners recommend adequate water intake, exercise, diet changes and herbs such as peppermint, chamomile, and ginger. They advise caution in the use of herbs as they can have a triggering affect on some people.
Irritable bowel syndrome is diagnosed primarily by symptom reporting. The symptoms must have lasted at least six months and occur three days a month to be considered a disorder. Tests to rule out other bowel diseases such as Crohns, celiac disease, and colon cancer will also be done if simple diet and lifestyle changes don’t correct the problem. Unlike other inflammatory bowel conditions such as crohns, Irritable bowel syndrome is not thought to increase you risk of cancer. While Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition, it is not consider life threatening. If you have the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, follow up with your doctor for advice.