Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common functional disorder resulting when the large intestine contracts improperly, either too quickly or too slowly.
When these irregular contractions happen it causes a host of symptoms that may include cramps, intermittent pain, gas, and diarrhea or constipation. The cause of IBS is still under investigation but theories suggest that it may be caused by a malfunction of the nervous system, abnormally functioning motor nerves, or stomach bacteria responsible for the production and movement of intestinal gas.
IBS often begins affecting sufferers when they are in their teens or early 20s, but it can start at any time, especially in times of elevated stress. Women develop IBS far more frequently than men. In fact, it’s estimated that upwards of 80% of people dealing with irritable bowel syndrome are women.
Symptoms of IBS
The most common signs that someone may be experiencing IBS include:
- Abdominal discomfort – The symptom IBS patients most often report is discomfort or pain in the abdomen. This may be described as the feeling of painful cramps that come and go, general stomach upset, or moderate to severe gassiness. IBS may also cause abdominal bloat that leads to the stomach becoming painfully distended.
- Diarrhea and/or constipation – IBS can be categorized as diarrhea specific, constipation specific, or a combination of the two. A very common symptom shared by many people with irritable bowel syndrome is the need to use the restroom almost immediately after eating, especially if the meal consisted of spicy or sugary foods or foods containing gluten. People with IBS may notice that their bowel movements appear to have a lot of mucous in them or that they fail to form properly.
IBS patients have also reported the following symptoms when experiencing bouts of IBS:
- Lower back pain
- Muscle aches and pain
- Depression or anxiety
When to Seek Medical Treatment
If somone experiences the above symptoms for a period of three months or more it is recommended that a doctor be consulted for proper diagnosis and treatment. After ruling out other potential disease or disorders, a physician can prescribe medications that will help to alleviate diarrhea, constipation, and stomach upset.
Adjusting dietary habits may also be beneficial to fighting the uncomfortable symptoms of IBS. IBS sufferers who enjoy spicy foods or frequent sugary treats should consider making a change in their eating habits. Those with IBS who have a suspected sensitivity to lactose or gluten may also benefit from eliminating foods containing those ingredients from their diet. Keeping a food journal is an excellent way for IBS patients to keep track of which foods set off symptoms so they can be avoided in the future. With proper management, IBS patients can expect to lead completely normal lives.
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