Irritable bowel syndrome

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What is it

Irritable bowel syndrome also known as spastic colon, mucous colitis, nervous bowel, or simply IBS is a common abdominal complaint, not a disease, and is probably the least understood but most common reason for visits to gastroenterologists.

IBS usually develops in late adolescence or early adulthood and affects twice as many women as men. It’s estimated 15 to 20 percent of the adult population in the United States has IBS to some degree, but only about half seek medical attention. It is also a major cause of absenteeism from work. IBS does not require surgery, is not caused by any known physical abnormality, and is not the same thing as inflammatory bowel disease a much more serious disorder that may produce ulceration of the intestinal wall. It’s still a chronic disorder and is more difficult to cope with than the occasional bout of diarrhea or nervous stomach most people experience from time to time.

IBS is linked with digestion. After partly digested food leaves the stomach, it is moved along through the small and large intestine by a gentle synchronized wavelike contraction and relaxation (peristalsis) of the intestinal wall muscles. In IBS sufferers, the muscles go into spasm for unknown reasons, causing residue to move either too quickly (causing diarrhea) or too slowly (leading to constipation).

When you have IBS, you have no fever or bleeding, and you can’t think of anything you’ve eaten or done to have brought on these gastrointestinal problems. Mysteriously, the diarrhea may give way to constipation, but you may still have abdominal pain and a lot of gas. The condition may correct itself and then return suddenly when you least expect or want it for example, before an important occasion about which you already feel tense.


Symptoms vary from person to person and are often triggered by a particular food, stressful event, or bout of depression. The most common symptoms include

Moderate to severe abdominal cramps, pain, belching, and bloating. Pain is often relieved by a bowel movement.

  • Constipation or diarrhea, sometimes bouts of both lasting for days, weeks, or months. Diarrhea, which occurs immediately after awakening in the morning or right after eating, sometimes has white mucus in it.
  • Gas.
  • A feeling that the bowels have not completely emptied.
  • Nausea.
  • A worsening of symptoms after eating a big meal, during menstrual periods, or when you ore under stress.

What causes it

No one is sure exactly what causes irritable bowel syndrome some doctors attribute it to emotional stress or an as-yet-undetermined physiological disorder. Current research is being conducted to investigate the possibility of a lower pain threshold for people with IBS, which then triggers the disorder.

Certain foods may cause sudden flare-ups. Common triggers include high-fat foods, such as bacon, vegetable oils, and margarine, as well as gas-producing foods like beans and broccoli. Lactose intolerance the inability to digest lactose (milk sugar), caused by an enzyme deficiency can also produce the same symptoms.

What if you do nothing

It’s estimated that half of the people with IBS don’t seek medical attention and choose instead to live with their “nervous stomach” because their IBS symptoms aren’t that bothersome.

Although the disorder can cause much discomfort, it does not lead to serious disease. If you can learn to control the chronic flare-ups and relieve the often bothersome symptoms yourself, IBS may not interfere with your everyday activities.

Home remedies

The challenge of IBS comes in trying to treat symptoms without having a clear idea of the causes. IBS usually responds to one or a combination of self-care measures, but it may take some time and trial-and-error to notice results. Depending on your particular signs, your doctor can recommend a number of cures that may assist, such as tranquilizers for temporary relief of anxiety and stress, antispasmodics to control diarrhea, and bulk laxatives (high in fiber) or stool softeners to cure constipation, if required. K symptoms continue; your doctor may also recommend certain form of psychotherapy.

Watch your diet

Though no food or category of foods is a known or even suspected culprit, there’s no harm in watching your diet, because certain foods may make your symptoms worse. Keep a food diary and if certain foods seem to set off symptoms, try avoiding them for a while. Don’t eliminate them unless they cause problems more than once.

Add fiber

A high-fiber diet (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, taken with plenty of fluids) is known to promote normal bowel function as well as to reduce bloating and other symptoms of IBS.

Some people find that the constipation of IBS can be managed by including wheat or oat bran in their daily diet. But bran may not work for some people, and in others it can actually worsen symptoms. If you try bran, start with one tea- spoon daily, and slowly increase the amount up to 9 or 10 teaspoons spread over the course of the day. Be sure to drink plenty of water any time you consume bran.

Eat smaller, more frequent meals

Eating four to six smaller meals throughout the day may be easier to digest than three large ones.

Try eliminating gas-forming foods

If your predominant symptom is gas, eliminating beans, peas, lentils, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, cucumbers, and leafy vegetables may help. If symptoms improve, gradually reintroduce these foods and see what happens.

Don’t delay

If you feel the urge to move your bowels, do so. Any delay may contribute to becoming constipated.

Exercise regularly

This can help reduce stress. stimulate the digestive process, and relieve symptoms.

Avoid sorbitol

This artificial sweetener found in candy, gum, and other sugarless products may cause diarrhea.

Don’t abuse laxatives

You may become dependent on them and this can eventually weaken your intestines.

If you’re lactose-intolerant

Consider avoiding milk products or else use lactase supplements.


There is no known way to prevent irritable bowel syndrome. Nonetheless, by learning how to minimize occasional episodes of IBS with modifications you make in your diet and with stress management, you may help reduce incidences of the ailment.

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