What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome? | 1MD

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a chronic condition that may cause abdominal pain and cramping, as well as different types of changes in the bowel movements. If you suspect you may have IBS, there are a number of signs and symptoms to look for, as well as ways to manage your condition if you do suffer from it.

Symptoms and Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms can present in a number of ways. The primary symptom of IBS is pain in the abdominal area, which would be located just below the ribs, but above the hips. Other than abdominal pain, AboutIBS.org reports that 25% to 50% of people also experience heartburn, feeling full earlier than normal, gas, nausea, bloating, or a sense of fullness in the entire abdominal area.

Additionally, other gastrointestinal symptoms include, intermittent pain or discomfort in the upper abdominal area, a sense of urgency to use the bathroom (diarrhea), and a feeling that your bowels have not been completely emptied when you have a movement.

Although most people who have IBS find the gastrointestinal symptoms to be more noticeable, there are also non-GI symptoms that are associated with this condition. Extreme fatigue, muscle pain, sexual dysfunction and sleep disturbances or problems may be symptoms of IBS; along with headaches and low back pain, though they are most present in more extreme cases.

Studies have indicated that it may be the actual ecosystem of the digestive tract and intermittent changes in the colon that play a vital role in whether or not you will suffer symptoms. However, the actual cause of the condition has not yet been determined by researchers. In fact, the University of Maryland Medical Center states: "Researchers don't know what causes IBS, and the intestines of people with IBS appear normal when examined. It may be caused by a disturbance in the muscle movement of the intestine or a lower tolerance for stretching and movement of the intestine. Risk factors may include a low-fiber diet, emotional stress, use of laxatives, a bout of infectious diarrhea, or other temporary bowel inflammation."

In addition, UMMC noted that diet does play a major role in IBS, with varying doctors and multiple studies suggesting that fatty foods, dairy products, red meat, carbonated beverages, chocolate, alcohol, gluten, and artificial sweeteners may all aggravate the condition.

How Do You Know if You Have IBS?

Most people realize they may have IBS, or some other kind of gastrointestinal problem, because they experience abdominal pain and changes in their bowel movements. Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms are often triggered by these bowel changes, and may include having mucus in the bowel, and alternating between varying degrees of diarrhea and constipation. Many experience some of the symptoms noted above, and end up checking with a doctor. It is not hard to recognize that you suffer from this condition if your symptoms are ongoing.

How to Live with IBS

Treating and living with IBS is different for each individual. This is so because everyone suffers from it in the same way, and each person's symptoms may vary and come in unique degrees and combinations.

Those who suffer from intense gas pains and from either diarrhea or constipation can often correct many symptoms by altering their diet. The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (UPMC) suggests a low-fiber, low-residue diet during flare ups of pain accompanied with diarrhea. This means avoiding fatty foods (bacon, mayonnaise, shellfish), beans, broccoli, corn, garlic spicy foods, spinach, hot beverages (coffee, tea, hot chocolate), licorice, artificial sweeteners, nuts and red wine.

Controlling diarrhea is easier when you ingest foods such as avocados, bananas, bread, potatoes, rice applesauce, crackers, and apples. UPMC also suggests eating fewer raw foods and more cooked foods, smaller portions, regular meals, resting after meals, avoiding caffeine, limiting dairy, and adding a calcium supplement.

There are medications that people who suffer from IBS can take. However, many doctors suggest trying to control it naturally first. Long-term use of any medication is generally not advisable when there are other alternatives.

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