IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, is a functional disorder of the large intestine that can manifest itself in a variety of ways. IBS affects one in five adults in the USA, with women being more frequently affected. Some people with IBS have constipation, others have diarrhea. Occasionally, you may have both.
Some people have mucus in their stools, or feel like they have to have a bowel movement even after they had one. Most sufferers have varying degrees of cramping, bloating and gas, all of which can be painful. IBS tends to be chronic, but symptoms can vary over time. Because some more serious intestinal disorders often have similar symptoms, it is very important that you discuss with your physician your particular symptoms.
Why do some people have IBS?
It seems to run in families, and appears to be an over- sensitivity of the large intestine's muscles and nerves leading to painful contractions of the bowel after eating leading to diarrhea or cramps. The nerves in the bowel may be sensitive to the stretching of the bowel after eating, leading to pain and more cramping. Think of the IBS bowel as being over sensitive to the normal processes of digestion. Stress doesn't cause IBS, but it can trigger a bout of symptoms, as can hormones, some foods and even strenuous exercise.
Your doctor may want to run some tests if you complain of typical IBS symptoms.
Tests can include a physical exam, blood tests, a barium enema or endoscopy. She also may have some ideas on how to limit your IBS symptoms. She may prescribe an antispasmodic, to slow the bowel down, or a laxative to help loosen things up and decrease pain. She may also want to talk to you about the stresses in your life, and try to brainstorm ways you could reduce your stress level.
Ways to reduce your IBS symptoms
Food is often a trigger, and the foods most likely to blame include alcohol, chocolate, caffeine, carbonated beverages, fatty foods, and milk products. Begin a food diary, and write down your symptoms after eating to see what your trigger food is. Then eliminate the culprit from your diet, and see if your IBS symptoms lessen. Some exercises may help with reducing stress and increasing relaxation, including yoga or Pilates.
Some foods seem to be beneficial for reducing the painful symptoms of IBS. They include foods with natural fiber, like apples, peas, beans and whole grain breads. Try eating smaller meals throughout the day, and be sure to drink plenty of water. Don't over do it with adding fiber at first, because you could create more gas, which may irritate your IBS.
IBS is a painful syndrome, but is one you can try to control through basic principles of healthy living including drinking plenty of water, eating smaller meals, eating our fruits and vegetables and getting some exercise and stress relief. As with any advice on a medical issue, your best solution is to call your physician and talk with her about your symptoms.