What are the causes of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common intestinal disorder that is characterized by abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits. Older terms for IBS include spastic colon, irritable colon, and nervous colon.
The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is unknown. However, some factors which appear causative are:
- Intestinal muscle hyperactivity
- Decreased or increased intestinal motion
- Oversensitive nerves of the intestine
- Alterations in populations of gut microorganisms (microbiome)
- Intolerance to certain foods
- Being younger than 35
- Being a woman in the Western world
What foods trigger IBS attacks?
- Intolerance to fatty foods leads to abdominal fullness and related symptoms
- Consuming milk and milk products may aggravate the symptoms
- Drinking carbonated beverages can lead to gas formation and eventually abdominal pain
- Sugar and sugar substitutes can cause excess burping, cramping and diarrhea.
- Intake of caffeine and legumes can worsen symptoms of abdominal discomfort and anxiety.
Consumption of the following foods may exacerbate IBS symptoms:
- Wheat products
- Chicory root
What are the symptoms and signs of IBS?
- Abdominal fullness
- Painful intercourse
- Poor sexual desire
- Increased urine frequency and urgency
- Increased muscle pain
- Incomplete emptying of stools
- Worsening of symptoms before the start of the menstrual period
The following are symptoms are not consistent with the IBS and should be reported to the physician:
How is IBS diagnosed?
Diagnostic tests include
- Laboratory tests
- CT scan to screen for tumors, obstruction and pancreatic disease
- Gall bladder ultrasonography would be recommended in case of frequent indigestion and post-meal pain.
What is the treatment for IBS?
Treatment options include:
- lifestyle changes
- stress management
- dietary changes
- managing the symptoms with medications
No cure for IBS exists. Therefore, treatment is focussed on eliminating or lessening the severity of symptoms.
Anti-diarrheal drugs such as loperamide help in reducing the frequency of bowel movements, and laxatives, such as milk of magnesia or polyethylene glycol, may soften the stools to relieve constipation.
Other drugs that may be used to treat IBS include:
- spasm-relieving drugs (antispasmodics)
Antibiotics, such as rifamixin, may be used to treat the overgrowth of bacteria in the intestine.
Probiotics are an excellent source of essential gut bacteria; however, their use remains unclear.
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What should you know about IBS?
- IBS is a chronic disease and may take years to resolve.
- Lifestyle modifications and dietary changes help control the disease.
- Dietary fiber can resolve constipation.
- Managing or avoiding stress may help to tackle the disease.
- The relapse rate for IBS is high; however, life expectancy is not affected.
- Antidepressants are prescribed for anxiety or depression, which exacerbate IBS symptoms.
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