The Ins and Outs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Christina Dodd 

Digestive discomfort is a regular human experience from time to time. However, some people suffer from chronic colon problems requiring medical attention and treatment. One of such conditions is called Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

What Is IBS?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a digestive disorder marked by pain in the abdomen, flatulence, bloating, and irregular bowels movements that may alternate between diarrhea and constipation.

IBS is not a disease, but rather a collection of symptoms that typify it as a syndrome. It has also been called Irritable Colon, Spastic Colon, and Mucus Colitis. It is commonly confused with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, which refers to a group of illnesses of the colon.

What are the symptoms?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms vary widely in type and severity. It can be rather unpredictable, developing and disappearing seemingly without reason. As with many conditions, stress and poor nutrition can aggravate symptoms. Also, many women experience flare-ups around their menstrual cycle. The main symptoms include:

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Bloating, cramps, flatulence
  • Diarrhea and constipation
  • Uncomfortable bowel movements, including urgency and feeling of incompleteness
  • Mucus in the stool
What are the causes?

The exact causes of IBS are still rather mysterious and subject to much research and scrutiny. Most medical professionals agree that there is a combination of factors that lead to the development of IBS. Some of these include:

  • Atypical contractions or spasms of the muscles in the colon
  • Unusually sensitive pain receptors in the intestines
  • Abnormal communication between the nervous and digestive systems
  • Erratic hormones
  • Irregular reactions to infections or medications
  • Dietary, psychological, or emotional issues
IBS and Diet

As with any condition involving the colon, it stands to reason that your diet is an influential factor in the development of IBS symptoms. Eating too much at once or on an irregular schedule, and certain foods may trigger attacks. The most common are:

  • Wheat, corn, rye, barley
  • MSG, sorbitol, fructose
  • Dairy products
  • Onions and tomatoes
  • It is advised that sufferers of IBS also avoid things that can lead to digestive discomfort in the general population, including fats, red meat, eggs, citrus, raw vegetables, caffeine, spicy foods, nicotine, and alcohol.

Treatment
Once your doctor has ruled out other underlying conditions and confirmed a diagnosis of IBS, there are several different treatments they may recommend.

  • Anti-cholinergic drugs
  • Anti-spasmodic medications
  • Laxatives
  • Anti-motility drugs
  • Certain antidepressants
  • Certain anti-anxiety medications

Alternative therapies include herbs like peppermint oil, aloe vera, bayberry, chamomile, ginger, marshmallow, and valerian. Some research has shown that acupuncture, reflexology, homeopathy, and yoga may be beneficial as well.

Coping with IBS
In general, it is advised that you sleep adequately, eat regular meals, drink plenty of water, exercise, avoid stress, and eat a healthy diet.

One of the best ways to deal with IBS is to discover the triggers that lead to your flare-ups and make changes accordingly. You may do this by keeping a diary that monitors your daily activities, including your diet, and documents the development of symptoms. You may be able to identify a pattern and then eliminate triggers accordingly.

Fiber can play an important role for IBS sufferers. Some might need to increase their fiber intake to ease symptoms, and other people may need to reduce their fiber consumption.

Lastly, research has shown that digestive enzymes and probiotics may be beneficial.

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Editor Review by : Christina Dodd
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