Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, affects approximately twenty to twenty-five percent of the adult population in the United States. It is amongst the most prevalent disorders diagnosed by physicians, and typically targets both men and women thirty-five to forty years of age. IBS is distinguished most commonly by symptoms of diarrhea, constipation and bloating, in addition to cramping and abdominal pain. Although the symptoms are often distinctly uncomfortable, and occasionally painful, the disorder is not known to generate long-term damage to the intestines or foster more serious diseases like cancer.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome’s symptoms are usually manageable if one adheres to a proper diet, learns to effectively process and manage their stress, and follows both the treatment plan and medication regiment set out by their doctor. In rare cases, however, IBS symptoms can become so pronounced that the sufferer becomes incapacitated. In such extreme cases, even what are regarded typically as low-stress activities, such as travel, vacationing, or attending social occasions, become impossible. Although IBS commonly follows a fairly predicable set of symptoms, the disorder manifests differently depending on the individual and their specific circumstances.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome can cause constipation or what is refereed to as interrupted bowel movements, in which one produces bowel movements with either no regularity, or in a manner that demonstrates regularity has been interrupted. Individuals who suffer from constipation also report experiencing extreme cramping when trying to produce a bowel movement, and often complain that they are either unable to make a bowel movement, or that what they produce is minimal and that they are left feeling bloated. The symptoms can vary regarding duration and severity, and it is not uncommon for symptoms to worsen, disappear, and then return after a period of time, typically worsening with each cycle. Other symptoms that may arise are spasms in the colon, which can also result in complete interruption of what is referred to as peristalsis, in addition to changes in the colon’s lining, which indicates that changes to one’s immune system have taken place; in this latter scenario the colon’s fluid regulation has been impacted, resulting in production of stool that is either too wet, causing diarrhea, or desiccated, which results in constipation.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms that a physician will look for specifically are: prolonged bouts of abdominal pain for durations of twelve to fourteen weeks during any annual period; abdominal pain that is distinguished by the following traits: a) the pain is alleviated when a bowel movement is produced, b) when symptoms commence, one experiences alterations in the frequency bowel movements are made, and c) alterations in the appearance of one’s stool. Other symptoms doctors look for are the presence of mucus in the stool, or the sensation of having to make a bowel movement with associated feelings of urgency, as well as bloating. IBS, it should be noted, is not associated with symptoms such as fever or bleeding, and in the event these symptoms are present, in addition to symptoms such as weight loss or severe, sharp pain, one should immediately consult their physician. Incidentally, research seems to indicate that in women there is a worsening of symptoms during periods of menstruation, which tentatively supports the notion that reproductive, hormonal fluctuations are causal factors in IBS symptoms.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome’s causes remain obscure. There are several theories as to what generates the disorder, but as yet no conclusive data why. One theory propounds that IBS is caused by sensitivity in the colon or large intestine to specific foods, which is why physicians will almost always request their patients alter their dietary habits, while another theory holds that IBS is the body’s reaction to being exposed to undo stress. It is also theorized that a weakened immune system, which is the body’s first defense against disease, may be a contributing factor. As such, prescribing treatments are usually multi-pronged in their approach.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is frequently amenable to lifestyle changes that start with making modifications to one’s diet. For example, restricting or eliminating foods that contain caffeine, or that are high in sugar, can help generate relief, as is the elimination of certain dairy products and liquor. Reducing one’s intake of vegetables that are known to cause gas or bloating, such as beans or cauliflower, can also help to relieve symptoms. Consuming adequate amounts of both fiber and water can assist reliving symptoms of constipation, while striving to reduce one’s stress, through meditation or exercise, can also help to reduce or eliminate symptoms.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome treatments will always take into account one’s specific dietary, health, and life style considerations, therefore, no two treatments will be exactly alike. Many of the remedies employed can be regarded as both interventions and preventative, and will usually involve alterations to one’s lifestyle. Increasing one’s daily exercise regime is a factor that can be explored, as is the use of various medications such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs, and drugs that specifically treat the symptoms of cramping, diarrhea, and constipation. Because no single intervention is appropriate for all people, it is important to consult with your physician or healthcare provider to determine what course of action best fits your lifestyle and your needs. Understanding the importance of controlling one’s stress is another factor that should be considered to round out one’s treatment plan. Being mindful is imperative, and understanding that one’s actions will impact one’s recovery is paramount. Ultimately, information and prevention are pivotal criteria to achieving and maintaining long-term treatment and resolution of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
written by David Gilbert
H.I.C. Digestive Health ©2009