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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder that affects the functioning of the large intestine.

People suffering from irritable bowel syndrone should avoid gas-causing foods, such as raw fruit and vegetables. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
People suffering from irritable bowel syndrone should avoid gas-causing foods, such as raw fruit and vegetables.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome, commonly known as IBS, is a disorder that affects the functioning of the large intestine. Approximately half of all people that suffer from IBS have symptoms of the disorder by age 35. Women suffer from irritable bowel syndrome more often than men do. Studies have found that approximately 20 percent of Americans have complained to their doctors about IBS symptoms. Irritable bowel syndrome is one of the most commonly diagnosed medical issues in the United States.

IBS Symptoms

The muscles lining the walls of the intestines contract and relax at a set rhythm to move food through the intestines. When a person suffers from IBS, the muscles that line the wall of the intestines stop contracting normally. When the muscles contract too quickly, diarrhea occurs. When the contractions are too slow, constipation may occur. It is unknown what causes the onset of IBS.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are different for each person and are often mistaken for other conditions. In most cases the condition is chronic, although the severity of symptoms may fluctuate and even subside for periods of time.

Common symptoms of IBS include:

  • Gas and bloating
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Changes in bowel movement patterns
  • Constipation, diarrhea or both
  • Mucus in the stool

Common Triggers

Certain foods, drinks, medication, stress or illnesses often cause an attack of irritable bowel syndrome. Keep a record of diet, exercise, medications, activities and emotions when an attack occurs to help identify triggers. When eliminating certain foods such as dairy, vitamin supplements may be necessary to maintain an adequate level of certain nutrients.

Although the things that trigger an attack of irritable bowel syndrome vary from one patient to the next, the following are known to worsen symptoms in many patients:

  • Large meals
  • Excess gas
  • Wheat, rye and barley
  • Milk and other dairy products
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Stress
  • Medications

Reducing Symptoms With Lifestyle Changes

There is no cure for IBS; however, symptoms are relieved through lifestyle and diet changes.
Stress can contribute to the abnormal contractions of the colon. Stress reduction training, exercise and plenty of sleep are some effective methods of managing stress.

Patients are encouraged to eat several small meals and snacks at regular intervals throughout the day, rather than skipping meals or overeating. IBS sufferers should eat a balanced diet that is high in soluble fiber and avoid gas-causing foods, such as raw fruits and vegetables, dried beans, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.

Drinking at least six glasses of water a day is crucial for those that have IBS, especially if they suffer from diarrhea. Water helps the body process and pass food, and it prevents dehydration from diarrhea.

Relieving Symptoms With Medication

Fiber supplements can relieve constipation and over-the-counter, antidiarrheal medication can help for control diarrhea. Those suffering from IBS should not take laxatives without consulting a doctor first.

According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), alosetron hydrochloride (Lotronex) has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome in women with severe diarrhea that have not responded to conventional treatment, including lifestyle changes.

In April 2008, the FDA approved lubiprostone (Amitiza) for adult women who have IBS with constipation. It is taken twice daily to increase fluid secretion in the small intestine.

Learning to Cope

Because there is no cure for irritable bowel syndrome, in addition to learning to control symptoms the patient has to learn to live with the disorder. It may cause pain and discomfort and the symptoms can sometimes be embarrassing. Sufferers should ask a doctor about local IBS support groups or join one on the Internet, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome Self Help and Support Group.

Patients that suffer from IBS sometimes suffer from depression. Doctors may prescribe antidepressants as part of an IBS treatment plan. In addition to talking with a doctor, seeking help from a professional therapist or talking to others that suffer from irritable bowel syndrome can be comforting and helpful to patients.

Other Health Risks

The IBS patient is at a greater emotional risk than a physical one, since the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome often interfere in business and personal relationships. However, there are a few known health risks caused by IBS. The diarrhea and constipation caused by the disorder can irritate hemorrhoids. These same symptoms, as well as the avoidance of too many trigger foods, can sometimes lead to malnutrition for IBS sufferers.

There is no apparent connection between irritable bowel syndrome and other diseases or health problems. Furthermore, there is no evidence that IBS leads to an increased risk of inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohns disease or colitis.

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