Irritable Bowel Disorder

What is Irritable Bowel Disorder?

Irritable Bowel syndrome is a disorder of the intestines that causes severe stomach pain, cramping, or bloating, and diarrhea or constipation. IBS is a long-term problem that can be treated to reduce symptoms. Your symptoms may be better or worse from day to day, but IBS does not get worse over time. IBS doesn’t cause other serious diseases. IBS is one of the most common disorders that physicians treat. For years IBS was considered as a psychological problem rather than a physical one. Up to 1 in 5 American adults has IBS, but for most people the signs and symptoms are only mild. There is only a small percentage of people with IBS that have severe signs and symptoms.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Disorder?

You may meet the criteria for IBS if your symptoms began at least 6 months ago, you have had stomach pain or discomfot at least 3 days each month in the last 3 months, and at lease two of the following statements are true:

  • The pain is relieved by having a bowel movement
  • The pain is linked to a change in how often you have a bowel movement
  • The pain is linked to a change in the appearance or consistency of your stool

When you have IBS your pattern of bowel movements may change over time. Two or more of the following can happen:

  • Your bowel movments may occur more often (diarrhea), or less often (constipation) than usual, like havin more than 3 bowel movements a day or less than 3 a week.
  • Your bowel movements may change in size or consistency (may be hard, pencil thing, or loose and watery)
  • The way your stools pass changes (You may strain, feel an urgent need to have a bowel movement, or feel that you haven’t completely passed a stool)
    • You may have bloating or a feeling of gas in the intestines

You may have symptoms that don’t affect your intestines such as:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • Backache
  • Sleeping problems
  • Sexual problems
  • Heart palpitations
  • Urinary symptoms

Symptoms can often occur after a meal, during stressful times, or during menstruation.

Symptoms of IBS can differ from one person to another. They may occur with many other diseases. Among the most common symptoms are: Abdominal pain or cramping, a bloated feeling, gas, diarrhea or constipation, mucus in the stools.

Many people only have mild symptoms of IBS. These problems may be inhibiting, however you may have severe signs and symptoms that don’t react well to medical treatment. Most people experience IBS as a chronic condition. There will most likely be times when symptoms of IBS are worse, and times when they disappear completely.

What are the Causes of Irritable Bowel Disorder?

The cause of irritable bowel syndrome is unknown. However, health experts believe that it may be caused by faulty communication between the brain and the intestines which causes the symptoms of IBS. A combination of elements including psychological stress, hormones, the immune system, and chemicals called neurotransmitters appear to interfere with communication between the brain and the bowel.

The miscommunication causes abnormal muscle movements which often cause cramping. Normally, the muscles in the intestines contract and relax in a coordinated rhythm. Those with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome may experience contractions that are stronger and last longer than normal, therefore food is forced through your intestines more quickly, causing gas, bloating, and diarrhea. These spasms can either speed up the passage of stool, or slow it down, resulting in diarrhea or constipation. Those with IBS seem to have unusually sensitive intestines.

One or more of the following factors may contribute to symptoms of IBS:

  • Eating
  • Stress(Stress can affect the movements of the intestines and also may affect the way a person feels pain.)
  • Trapped gas causing bloating
  • Hormonal changes (such as during the menstrual cycle)
  • Some medicines
  • Genetics

What are the Risk Factors of Irritable Bowel Disorder?

Many people have occasional symptoms of IBS, but you’re more likely to have IBS if you’re young and female. IBS typically begins around age 20. Overall, two to three times as many women as men have the condition.

Screening and Diagnosing Irritable Bowel Disorder

A diagnosis of IBS depends largely on a complete medical history and physical exam. Your doctor may also recommend conducting several tests, including stool studies to check for infection or malabsorption problems. He or she may perform a flexible sigmoidoscopy — a test that examines the lower part of the colon (sigmoid) with a flexible, lighted tube (sigmoidoscope). Irritable bowel syndrome, however, is usually diagnosed based on symptoms. In most cases, only minimal tests are needed.

Both diarrhea and constipation can aggravate hemorrhoids. In addition, signs and symptoms of IBS can interfere with your work, your relationships with friends and family, and your ability to live your life to the fullest. At times, you may feel discouraged or depressed.

How is Irritable Bowel Disorder Treated?

IBS is a long-term manageable condition. Treatment depends on the types of symptoms you have and how severe they are. It is important that you work with your doctor to create a treatment plan that will meet your specific needs. You may have to make changes your daily lifestyle.

For some people, foods can trigger IBS symptoms. Here are some suggestions to help prevent IBS symptoms:

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol
  • Limit your intake of fatty food
  • If diarrhea is your main symptom, limit dairy products, fruit, and artificial sweeteners
  • Increasing the fiber in your diet may help relieve constipation
  • Avoiding beans, cabbage, or uncooked cauliflower and broccoli can help relieve bloating and gas.

Get regular vigorous exercise to help reduce the tension in your bowels and make them more regular. Some medications may be used along with lifestyle changes in order to manage symptoms of IBS. Medications include anticholinergics for cramping, loperamide (Imodium) for diarrhea, and antidepressants to prevent the muscles in the intestine from acting irregularly. If stress triggers your symptoms, some form of psychological therapy or stress management may help you deal with your stress in a positive way and reduce IBS episodes.

Be especially aware of significant changes in symptoms, such as the appearance of blood in your stools, increased pain, severe fever, or unexplained weight loss. If any of these occur, your health professional may want to conduct additional tests to determine whether there is another cause for your symptoms. In treating chronic IBS, it is important that you maintain the changes to lifestyle and diet that relieve symptoms. The benefits of quitting smoking, avoiding caffeine and foods that make symptoms worse, and getting regular exercise should all be permanent parts of your daily routine.

Coping Skills

Living with IBS presents daily challenges. It may be painful or embarrassing and can seriously affect the quality of your life.

These suggestions may help you cope more easily:

  • Learn as much about IBS as you can: Talk to your doctor, look for information on the Internet, read books and pamphlets. Being informed about your condition can help you take better charge of it.
  • Identify the factors that trigger IBS: This is a key step both in managing your condition and helping you feel you have control of your life.
  • Seek out others with IBS: Talking to people who know what you’re going through can be reassuring. Try Internet chat rooms or IBS support groups in your community. Your doctor may be able to refer you to a support group, or you may find one in your local paper or on Internet sites.
  • Don’t hesitate to seek counseling: Specialists in behavioral medicine can help you understand and manage the effects of stress.