Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
- What causes irritable bowel syndrome?
- What are the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome?
- What can aggravate irritable bowel symptoms?
- How is irritable bowel syndrome treated?
- Dietary supplements for treating irritable bowel syndrome
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a problem that affects mainly the bowel, which is also called the large intestine. The bowel is the part of the digestive system that makes and stores stool. The word syndrome means a group of symptoms. IBS is a syndrome because it can cause several symptoms. For example, IBS causes cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.
What causes irritable bowel syndrome?
Most people with irritable bowel syndrome seem to have perfectly healthy digestive systems. Most likely, your doctor could order a set of tests and examines these and may not find anything wrong with your colon. Stress can make your symptoms worse and may contribute to the condition.
Unfortunately, nobody's sure what that "something else" may be. Experts speculate that people with the syndrome may have a glitch in their nervous system that makes the lining of the intestines extra sensitive to the presence of certain foods or to swelling and distention. Others believe that in some people, inflammation may leave the lining of the intestines more sensitive. People affected by IBS also produce certain brain chemicals called neurohormones in higher quantities, and some researchers think that there may be a communication breakdown between the nerves and the muscles in the colon.
What are the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome?
Lined with muscles and nerves, the colon is an active organ that contracts and relaxes to push along digested material. When it's running smoothly, it's easy to ignore -- just the way everyone would prefer it.
In some people, however, the colon can become extremely sensitive, leading to the collection of symptoms known as irritable bowel syndrome. Small contractions or gas can cause cramps and pain in the lower abdomen. The pain often appears after a meal and goes away after a bowel movement. The colon may go into spasms, causing diarrhea during the daytime (people with IBS rarely suffer from diarrhea during the night). Conversely, the spasms may hamper the normal movement of waste, causing constipation. Some patients experience mostly diarrhea and others mostly constipation; many alternate between the two extremes.
Other common symptoms include bloating, mucus in the stool, urgent bowel movements, straining during bowel movements, or a feeling of incomplete emptying after a bowel movement. All the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome tend to come and go, but often flare up in times of stress.
Up to one in five adults in the United States experiences irritable bowel syndrome at some point in their lives. Two-thirds of all people who seek medical help for the syndrome are women. The majority of people with IBS continue to experience the symptoms off and on, but up to 30 percent get rid of it entirely.
What can aggravate my symptoms?
In many people, symptoms can flare up or worsen during times of emotional stress, which can cause spasms of the colon. Many things in your diet can also contribute to the condition, including alcohol, dairy products, caffeine, fatty foods, and -- in some people -- gas-producing foods (such as beans, cabbage, nuts, and broccoli), the artificial sweetener sorbitol, and chocolate. Nicotine is another common culprit.
How is irritable bowel syndrome treated?
There's no single treatment for coping with irritable bowel syndrome. You'll need to work with your doctor to find an individual approach that works best for your symptoms.
If you suffer from diarrhea, constipation, or both, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter fiber supplement such as Metamucil, which contains a vegetable powder called psyllium. These fibre supplements absorb water, and so make stools bulkier (helping with your diarrhea) and softer (helping with constipation by making the stools easier to pass). The package labels often describes the supplements as "fibre laxatives," but they're actually not laxatives. (Just be sure to take them with one, and preferably two, 8-ounce glasses of water, or they may actually cause constipation.) Some people have found that mixing the fiber powder with fruit juice and ice makes it much more palatable.
Your doctor may also recommend a change in diet. Many people feel better after cutting back on fat, alcohol, and caffeine. Some people with chronic IBS may also need to stop eating salads and raw vegetables, according to Gary Gitnick, chief of the division of digestive diseases at University of California at Los Angeles. Among other things, raw vegetables can cause gas and diarrhea in people with sensitive digestive systems.
Dietary supplement for treating IBS
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