Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a condition that affects the nerves and muscles of the bowel. The intestine does not work the way it is supposed to. IBS affects up to 15% of the United States population. Typical symptoms of IBS include constipation, diarrhea, cramping, and abdominal pain. The level of discomfort may vary day to day.
The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is not known, but there are several possibilities. Because there are no visible changes in the intestines, such as tumors, infections, or deformities, some researchers feel that the problem may lay be neurological, a problem with the nerves leading from the bowels into the brain, or even with the brain itself. IBS may also be an immune disorder, where the body attacks itself by mistake. It may be triggered by a severe bout of the stomach flu, or other intestinal disease.
There are several things that may set off an episode of IBS. Food, especially spicy foods, may trigger an episode, as can gas trapped in the intestine. Stress and hormonal changes may affect IBS, as well. Some medications may temporarily worsen the intensity of the disorder. Most IBS sufferers experience either constipation or regular diarrhea, although some have alternating spells of both. Almost constant stomach cramping is also very common. Other common symptoms include mucus in the stools, bloating, and an overly sensitive stomach.
Treatments for IBS vary from person to person. There are some medicines available that may provide relief from some of the symptoms. Changes in diet are the most commonly advised treatment. By avoiding trigger foods, like broccoli and cabbage, or foods with a lot of caffeine or sugar, it is possible to lessen the intensity of symptoms. Limiting fatty foods may also help.
Regular exercise, such as swimming or running, may help to regulate the bowels, as well as reduce stress. Other relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, or progressive breathing, can reduce the occurrence of IBS episodes. Psychotherapy may also help, if the level of stress a person is experiencing cannot be reduced in other ways.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition. By working closely with a doctor, it is possible to have some relief from the symptoms or even experience fewer episodes. Being informed, knowing personal triggers, and getting support are all ways of managing IBS. It is possible to live well, despite an IBS diagnosis.