Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Do I Have It?

You frequently experience abdominal cramps. Strange gurgling sounds erupt from your abdomen. You’re often bloated and frustrated with frequent bouts of constipation or diarrhea. Are these the symptoms of IBS – and do you have it?

What is IBS?

IBS is short for irritable bowel syndrome, a functional disorder of the large intestine, otherwise known as the colon or bowel. IBS can contribute to a number of symptoms that affect people differently. Symptoms can last a day to two or more months. Currently, it is not thought to be contagious or inherited. Nonetheless, further research needs to be conducted. It is reassuring to know that it is not a form of cancer and is actually quite common.

What Causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

The exact causes of IBS are unknown. However, those diagnosed with the condition may have more sensitive nerves and muscles that line the large intestine. Peristalsis, or the movement of food through the intestines, is triggered by muscle contractions. Longer and stronger than normal contractions can cause bloating, diarrhea, and gas, while weaker contractions slow down food passage and contribute to constipation.

Other listed causes of irritable bowel syndrome can include, but are not limited to:

  • Normal microflora in the gut are considered good, and are vital for health and wellness. Some research has suggested that people with IBS may have different levels or types of microflora in their intestines.
  • Inflammation associated with abnormal immune system responses within the intestines can also contribute to flare-ups of symptoms.
  • As a result of abnormal microflora and inflammation, nerve abnormalities affecting signaling between the brain and intestines can occur. This can trigger “overreaction” to digestive processes resulting in diarrhea, constipation, or pain.

A number of issues may trigger IBS. Just a few include:

  • Fluctuating hormones are perceived to influence IBS symptoms, and women are more likely to experience IBS than men.
  • Stress may exacerbate symptoms, but does not cause them.
  • According to the Mayo Clinic, the link between food allergies and IBS symptoms may be associated to certain foods.
  • A poor diet or lack of good nutrition can disrupt the normal gut microflora.
  • Chemical sensitivities, including chemicals found in the food we eat, can trigger irritable bowel syndrome.

Primary Signs and Symptoms

The most common signs of IBS include:

  • Cramps in the middle or off to one side of the lower abdominal region
  • Constipation and/or diarrhea (can alternate)
  • Bloating
  • Excessive gas
  • Mucous in the stools
  • A sense of urgency to evacuate the bowels
  • Sensations that you still have to have a bowel movement even after elimination,

Is There Anything I Can Do about IBS?

IBS is treated with a variety of approaches ranging from functional medicine, which identifies and treats the causes, to conventional practices, which treats the symptoms with medications. Psychological counseling or emotional support for stress-related flare-ups may help. Conservative and alternative approaches to health care will likely include recommendations involving dietary changes such as avoidance of dairy products, sugar, fatty foods, and carbonated drinks, for starters.

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Dr Waldo

Ralph Waldo, M.D. is a functional and integrative doctor practicing in Carmel, Indiana. He graduated from Indiana University with degrees in biology and psychology, following which he received an M.S. in Physiology and Biophysics.  In 1999 he obtained his medical degree from Indiana University School of Medicine.  

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