What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome

An Overview of Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common but often misunderstood disorder with a wide range of symptoms. Patients with IBS experience chronic digestive problems, including constipation and diarrhea, but frequently do not seek treatment. Understanding IBS may help more adults recognize it and regain normal digestive function.

IBS Symptoms

IBS is generally divided into two types: IBS-C and IBS-D. Whereas IBS-C involves mainly constipation, IBS-D involves mainly diarrhea. Some patients suffer from a combination of the two, with episodes of constipation alternating with diarrhea. Patients also commonly have abdominal bloating, intestinal gas and stool containing mucus. Because the symptoms of IBS vary so much, the syndrome is often misdiagnosed. However, IBS can also indicate more serious problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease.

IBS Causes

A host of factors can cause or contribute to IBS symptoms, including food intolerances, neurological abnormalities and stress. In many cases, IBS sufferers experience problems from eating spicy foods, dairy products, alcohol and high-fiber foods. Neurological causes of IBS can involve abnormal or insufficient signals being sent to or received by the digestive tract. Depression and anxiety are among the most common emotional triggers for IBS, but hormonal changes during the feminine monthly cycle have also been implicated.

IBS Treatment

Like causes of IBS, treatments for the syndrome differ significantly. In mild cases, patients may be able to reduce or relieve symptoms by decreasing their stress or making other lifestyle changes. When severe emotional stress is to blame, patients may benefit from counseling or medication to treat anxiety and depression. IBS-D, the type associated with diarrhea, is sometimes treated with antispasmodic or anticholinergic drugs. OTC anti-diarrheal drugs are used similarly. Finally, constipation may be treated with laxatives.

IBS Diet

Some dietary recommendations stand out for the improvements they have given many IBS patients. Gas-causing foods, such as broccoli and cabbage, are sometimes best avoided to reduce bloating. Some patients should also avoid gluten, a protein present in several grains, including wheat, oats and barley. Fiber, particularly fermentable soluble fiber, is another commonly problematic food that can be cut out of a diet to fight IBS. Finally, patients who have difficulty digesting dairy may experience improvement in their IBS by going dairy free.

So, what is IBS? It is a common cause of chronic constipation, diarrhea and bloating that can be treated in a variety of ways. While severe IBS may necessitate medical treatment, many cases respond to dietary changes and other lifestyle adjustments. If additional symptoms are noted, such as weight loss and rectal bleeding, patients should see a doctor to be cautious.


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