Irritable bowel syndrome is a common disorder of the gastrointestinal tract that involves the large intestine. It typically begins in the late teens or during adulthood, and is twice as likely to affect women as it is men. Often referred to as IBS, it can cause discomfort and other uncomfortable symptoms but does not lead to permanent damage to the GI tract or colon. Typically, careful management of one’s diet, stress level and lifestyle can control irritable bowel syndrome.
Irritable bowel syndrome is not a disease; it is rather a collection of symptoms that occur concurrently. IBS is categorized by a change in how the gastrointestinal tract functions, meaning IBS is a functional GI disorder. Functional gastrointestinal disorders produce frequent symptoms but do not cause damage to the GI tract. IBS is not to be confused with IBD, which refers to inflammatory bowel disease. Unlike IBD, the bowel in persons with IBS is considered to be structurally normal.
Symptoms associated with IBS can range from mild to severe, with the majority of patients experiencing mild to moderate symptoms. Symptoms vary greatly from patient to patient, with some individuals experiencing symptoms that get worse over time, then seem to dissipate for a while, and others experiencing symptoms on a more consistent basis that can be incapacitating.
Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include:
The actual cause of irritable bowel syndrome is not clearly known. Doctors believe the cause may be a combination of physical and mental factors since the brain is involved with intestinal functioning. Signals pass between the brain and the nerves of the intestines, controlling the intestine’s function. Other possible causes for IBS include:
Many individuals, at one point or another, have experienced some of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Certain factors may increase your chances for developing IBS. Risk factors associated with irritable bowel syndrome include:
There is no single test specifically designed to diagnose irritable bowel syndrome. Typically, tests are performed to rule out any underlying conditions that may be producing similar symptoms. The diagnosis of IBS relies largely upon a complete and thorough medical history, review of symptoms and physical examination. To aide in the diagnosis, researchers have created a set of criteria called Rome criteria to assist in the diagnosis of IBS. In order to be diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, your symptoms must meet the criteria.
The primary symptoms are:
Two or more of the following symptoms must also be present:
Additional diagnostic tests that may be utilized to rule out underlying causes of symptoms or to check for infection include:
Because irritable bowel syndrome has no true cause, treatment options are often used to treat the symptoms associated with IBS. This is done so that the person diagnosed with IBS can experience a relief of symptoms and a sense of normalcy. Typically, mild cases of IBS can be controlled with adjustments made to diet, lifestyle or stress management.
Treatment suggestions include:
Simple alterations in your lifestyle may provide much needed relief of the symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome. Some home remedies to consider include:
Certain non-traditional remedies may help relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. These alternative remedies include:
The best way to prevent bouts of irritable bowel syndrome is to manage stress. Stress-related conditions such as IBS can worsen, occurring more intensely and frequently overtime. It is important to be able to manage stress in a positive way as to not trigger your IBS. Positive ways to cope with stress include:
Living with irritable bowel syndrome can be a difficult day-to-day challenge. If you’ve been diagnosed with IBS, it is important for you to learn all that you can about the disorder so that you can take charge of your condition. It is also helpful to identify those things that seem to make your IBS worse and avoid them. Additionally, it may be beneficial to attend an IBS support group for added support and coping skills.