Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a problem that affects the large intestine, causing bloating, abdominal cramping, and significant changes in bowel habits.  Symptoms vary widely; some people with IBS have diarrhea, others have constipation, and some go back and forth between the two.  Although IBS is very uncomfortable, if does not harm the intestines. 
IBS is a very common disorder.  It happens far more often in women than men, and it’s exact cause remains unknown.  There is no specific test for IBS; however, your physician will likely test for other diseases before diagnosing you with IBS.  Many people with IBS can control their symptoms with diet, medicine, and stress management.

Symptoms

  • Abdominal cramping or generalized abdominal ache
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Irregular bowel habits
  • Feelings of urgency with bowel movements
  • Feeling of incomplete bowel emptying
  • Heartburn
  • Abdominal fullness

Many IBS patients also report non-gastrointestinal symptoms such as:

  • Muscle pain
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Sexual disfunction

Who is at risk?

  • Women are roughly twice as likely to have IBS as men
  • If you are under the age of 35, you are more likely to have IBS
  • Genetics and heredity may play a role in instances of IBS

Treatment

In most instances of irritable bowel syndrome, change of diet and stress management can control your symptoms.  However, in moderate to severe cases of IBS, more lifestyle changes may be necessary.

  • Medication specifically for IBS may be necessary for some patients
  • Fiber supplements may help regulate bowel movements
  • Counseling may help manage stress triggers
  • Antidepressants may also help manage stress triggers
  • Anti-diarrheal medications may help control diarrhea
  • Eliminating high-gas foods may help with abdominal cramping
  • Anticholinergic  medications may be necessary to relieve painful bowel spasms in some patients.
  • Drinking plenty of liquids and regular exercise may also help many symptoms of IBS.

When should I see a doctor?

If you have prolonged symptoms (a few weeks)  of IBS or consistent disturbances and changes in your bowel habits, it is important to seek medical attention to rule out any more serious diseases such as colon cancer or Crohn’s disease.

For more information on Irritable Bowel Syndrome, see the following websites:

Symptoms of IBS – from the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD)

Comprehensive Overview of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Medline Plus (NIH) IBS Page

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Association

“What I need to know about Irritable Bowel Syndrome”

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