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Irritable Bowel Syndrome Signs and Symptoms

Updated on August 28, 2014

Do you feel bloated most of the time? Do you have abdominal pain that you feel is gas related? If you have both of these symptoms or any additional symptoms along with it such as cramping, diarrhea, constipation, etc., you could be among the 10-20% of Americans who are thought to be afflicted with a condition known as irritable bowel syndrome or IBS. Women are thought to suffer from this condition more than men and constitute about 60% of the cases in America. Although in and of itself, irritable bowel syndrome is not harmful, it can be very distressing and problematic for people afflicted with it. IBS can disrupt the quality of life of a normal person and can be a huge inconvenience.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (or IBS):

IBS is basically a disorder of the intestine (or digestive tract) that is chronic and causes bloating, gas, cramping, diarrhea and constipation. In the past, IBS has been referred to by various names such as spastic colon, colitis, etc. Now, this condition is commonly referred to as irritable bowel syndrome.

Causes of IBS:

The causative process of IBS is still not clearly understood. However, it is thought that people who have IBS generally have a sensitive digestive tract that is easily stimulated by certain stimuli such as:

  • Certain foods such as dairy products, alcohol, carbonated drinks, chocolate, citrus fruits, foods high in fat content, etc.
  • Stress is another possible trigger.
  • Emotional factors, including stress, but also things such as depression, fear, anxiety, etc.
  • Eating too quickly or irregular eating habits.
  • In case of women, menstrual periods could be yet another trigger.

What Are the Risk Factors for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS):

There are not many risk factors for IBS. However, sex and age are a few of the ones that have been observed. Women, for example, are thought to be twice as prone to develop IBS compared to men. Also, IBS is thought to manifest itself from young adulthood. Another risk factor is stress, which in and of itself does not cause the disease but may aggravate it.

Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome:

  • Abdominal pain/cramps.
  • Change in stool frequency.
  • Bloating.
  • Sensation of incomplete emptying after having a bowel movement.
  • Mucus in the stool.
  • Gas.
  • Sensation to move bowels that results in no actual stool being passed.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Irritable Bowel Syndrome

People afflicted with IBS appear healthy and an outward physical examination generally would not reveal anything abnormal. To diagnose IBS, doctors may perform the following tests/exams:

  • Blood tests.
  • Stool examination and cultures.
  • X-rays of the intestines.
  • Abdominal ultrasound.
  • Sigmoidoscopy, which basically involves passing a thin, illuminated flexible tube through the rectum to enable the doctor to visualize the interiors of your rectum and lower section of the colon. This procedure can be done at your physician's office.
  • Colonoscopy, which again involves passing of a thin, illuminated flexible tube through the rectum, but this procedure examines the entire colon and may need to be done in special procedure room.

Treatment of IBS:

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for IBS. It is a condition that can at best be managed by modifying one's lifestyle, by avoiding certain types of foods that have been found to be aggravating the problem, by stress management, etc.

Avoiding certain types of foods that have been known to cause aggravation of IBS symptoms is possibly the best way to manage IBS.

Potential Problem Foods

These potential problem foods are:

  • Spicy foods.
  • Foods high in fat.
  • Dairy products such as milk, cheese, etc.
  • Vegetables such as cabbages and onions.
  • Various types of legumes such as lentils, beans, chickpeas, etc.
  • Alcohol and caffeine.
  • Foods containing Sorbitol (an artificial sweetener).
  • Foods containing wheat.

Do remember though that in trying to avoid these foods, you do not miss out on the essential nutrients they offer. You may consult your physician on how best to supplement the potential loss of nutrients when you avoid these types of foods. Perhaps, a vitamin supplement may be suggested to try to compensate.

Medications For IBS:

Medications for IBS basically combat the symptoms of IBS, since there is no single cause of IBS. Some of the common over-the-counter medications used to treat the symptoms of IBS are:

  • Antiflatulents such as simethicone (Gas-X, Maalox, Genasyme)
  • Analgesics such as acetaminophen or Tylenol.
  • Antidiarrheals such as Lomotil and Pepto-Bismol
  • Fiber Supplements such as Fiber-Lax, Fiberall, Metamucil, etc.

IBS can be a difficult and embarrassing disease to live with, embarrassing because you might have to go to the bathroom more often and often times at the most inappropriate time (like between meetings). It is unfortunate that most people aren't aware of this condition and hence tend to make fun of the frequent bathroom visits that IBS sufferers have to make. If you have IBS, know that you are not alone and know that its not in "your head." It is a real condition and there are others (just like you) who suffer from this condition.

© 2009 Shil1978


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