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Research published in 2017 stated that around 7% to 16% of Americans had experienced irritable bowel syndrome. It is a condition that equally affects young people and women. Symptoms of IBS might vary from person to person, however, it may disrupt their daily life if the symptoms tend to be significant. Read on for more info on everything you need to know about irritable bowel syndrome, its causes, symptoms, and more!
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
IBS is also known as mucous colitis, spastic colitis, irritable colon, and spastic colon. It is not similar to inflammatory bowel disease or other bowel health conditions. A group of intestinal symptoms that occur together, irritable bowel syndrome has symptoms that vary in duration and severity from individual to individual.
An overview from 2018 indicated that to diagnose IBS, doctors take a look at symptoms from the last 3 days every month for the last 3 months. In some cases, IBS can cause intestinal impairment, even though it might be uncommon. A study published in 2022 showed that IBS won’t increase your chances of having gastrointestinal cancers but it might significantly affect your life.
What Causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
A study in 2014 indicated that even though there are several ways to treat IBS, its exact cause is still unknown. However, we know some possible causes of IBS like an overly sensitive immune system or colon. an attack on the gastrointestinal tract by a bacterial infection can lead to post-infectious IBS. Because of its varied causes, IBS is difficult to prevent.
Any physical processes that a person with IBS has also vary but might include:
- An imbalance of bacteria inside the digestive tract
- An abnormal serotonin levels in the colon that affects bowel movements and motility
- Spastic or slowed movements of the colon cause painful cramping
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms
Typically, you will notice these symptoms in a person with IBS:
It is common for people with IBS to have bouts of diarrhea and constipation. Symptoms such as gas and bloating go away after a bowel movement while other symptoms of IBS are not persistent. They resolve at some point in time only to come back later. Also, some might experience these symptoms continuously too.
Pain is a common symptom of IBS and it feels like cramping. Along with this consistent pain, you might also experience at least two of these symptoms:
- Change the look of your stool
- Change in the frequency of your bowel movements
- Relief from pain after a bowel movement
Diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Based on your symptoms, your healthcare provider will diagnose IBS and will try to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms by taking one or more of the following steps:
- Perform a colonoscopy
- Take blood tests to rule out anemia and celiac disease
- Test stool samples to rule out infections
- Suggest you a certain diet and/or cut out certain food groups to rule out food allergies
A doctor will typically order a colonoscopy if they suspect your symptoms are being caused by cancer, Crohn’s disease (inflammatory bowel disease), or colitis.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS is aimed at relieving the symptoms of IBS as there is no cure for the condition. Initially, your healthcare provider will ask you to bring some changes to your lifestyle with some simple home remedies.
Examples of certain lifestyle changes include:
- Avoiding spicy or deep-fried foods
- Taking probiotics to relieve bloating and gas
- Minimizing stress
- Eating smaller meals
- Reducing caffeinated beverages as they stimulate the intestines
- Regularly working out
Diet for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Dietary changes go a long way for some people in easing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. A common diet that registered dieticians and doctors recommend for people with IBS is a low FODMAP diet. It is a kind of carbohydrate found inside certain foods that have been shown to resolve common digestive issues. As The symptoms of IBS vary from person to person, dietary changes also vary to accommodate that person’s symptoms.
Medications for Treating IBS
If home remedies for treating UBS fail to bring about a positive change, your doctor will put you on medications. The response of people to IBS medications also varies from person to person so you will need to work with your doctor to find the right one for you.
Inform your doctor if you are already taking OTC medicines or home remedies so that they don’t interfere with your prescribed medicines. Some drugs for IBS are specifically focused on symptoms while others treat all the symptoms. IBS drugs include:
- Tricyclic antidepressants to ease pain
- Anti-constipation drugs
- Medications to control muscle spasms
If the primary symptom of IBS is constipation, these two drugs recommended by the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) will be prescribed:
What are The Risk Factors of IBS?
A study from 2017 puts together several risk factors for IBS such as:
- Neuroticism or somatic symptom disorder
- Having depression or anxiety
- Being exposed to antibiotics
- Being born a female
- Contacting food poisoning
What Triggers Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
For most people with IBS, the key to managing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome is to track its triggers and stay clear of them. A study from 2017 shows that certain foods trigger the symptoms of IBS along with anxiety and stress.
Some foods might have a greater effect on one person and be mild on others so better keep a food diary to note down what causes what. This way you can anticipate what will come next and it will help you reduce anxiety and stress. Heer’s how to manage each known trigger of IBS:
The motility or automatic movement of your digestive system is majorly controlled by your nervous system. Thus, stress can have a huge impact on your nerves and make your digestive system overactive. People with IBS have an over-responsive colon that gets triggered even at a slight disruption of the digestive system. IBS is also believed to be affected by the immune system which is also greatly affected by stress.
Weight changes are not typically seen in everyone with IBS but if you experience weight loss get in touch with your doctor to rule out other grievous causes. Potentially, IBS can lead to weight loss if you do not get enough calories to avoid symptoms and maintain your weight. You may experience severe cramping right after you eat and with frequent diarrhea, your body might not get all the nutrients it requires. This may lead to weight loss.
If diarrhea is a symptom of your IBS, then it is of a specific kind that primarily affects the large intestines. The common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea include nausea and frequent stools. Some people having IBS with diarrhea occasionally lose their ability to control their bowels.
IBS with constipation typically affects young adults and adolescents. Stools will be less frequent and hard for this type of IBS along with constipation.
Treatment Of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: When Should You See a Doctor?
If your symptoms last longer than a few days or have become a common occurrence, consider talking to a doctor. You should also get medical attention if you experience serious or sudden symptoms such as:
- Vomiting and nausea
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Persistent pain that doesn’t go away even after a bowel movement or passing gas
- Rectal bleeding
These symptoms could indicate a more serious health condition such as colon cancer. So be on the safe side and get a doctor.
The Bottom Line: Irritable Bowel Syndrome and How To Deal With It
Irritable bowel syndrome is a health condition that affects the intestine and the overall gut health. Even though the exact cause of this condition is still unknown to science, the main causes include depression, anxiety, imbalance in the digestive tract bacteria, etc. However, there are several ways to treat IBS. The most important treatment is to make changes in the diet to enable good gut health. Furthermore, if these home remedies do not work on you, your IBS is possibly due to some other underlying medical conditions. These will be diagnosed by a medical professional when your symptoms of IBS are combined with those of the other condition.