Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)-Symptoms and Causes
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a combination of pain and difficulty with bowel habits.
It is a group of intestinal symptoms that vary from person to person and in severity.
IBS is a chronic condition that needs to be managed on long-term basis.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as Spastic colon and Mucous colitis affects the large intestine.
IBS is more common in women than in men and an average of 3 to 20 percent of Americans have IBS symptoms.
Types of IBS
There are four types of IBS:
- IBS(D)- Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Diarrhea
- IBS(C)- Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Constipation
- IBS(M)- Combination of both diarrhea and constipation happening alternatively called Mixed IBS
- IBS(S)/(U)-Those who don’t fit into the above types have Unsubtyped IBS
Very few people have severe IBS symptoms. Most people have a mild case of IBS.
Neither is it life-threatening nor does it pose further problems to the colon.
However, it does affect the quality of life as it is long term.
People with IBS may have to change their routine and life setup.
They may have to work from home, avoid participating in activities or even quit work to adjust with IBS accordingly.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is not to be confused with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) which are two different bowel conditions.
Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
As there are 4 categories of IBS, the symptoms and their duration differ from person to person.
The most common symptoms of IBS affect bowel movement either through pain or frequency.
If you regularly face changes in your bowel habits, then consult a doctor timely as it could also indicate colon cancer.
Abdominal Pain and cramps
You may experience a discomforting pain in your abdomen after a meal. This pain usually goes away after you have a bowel movement.
This pain is due to sensitive nerves in the gut. In IBS, the brain processes pain signals from the bowel differently than usual.
Changes in Bowel Habit
Your stool can undergo changes in IBS. You may either suffer from diarrhea or constipation or both.
IBS-related constipation can be difficult and chronic. If you have less than 4 bowel movements in a week or hard, dry stool then chances are you have IBS(C).
However, IBS can also lead to diarrhea. Multiple loose stools in a day indicate IBS(D).
Another symptom is the presence of mucus in your stool. The mucus that protects the tissues in your GI tract can pass alongside your stool in your bowel movement.
Bloated Belly and Gas
Abdominal bloating makes your stomach appear swollen and your midsection can feel tight. This is also a prominent symptom of IBS.
If you usually have gas or flatulence, it could be indicating IBS. Some foods like beans and milk products can cause gas and worsen your IBS symptom.
Other symptoms of IBS include:
- A sticking out belly
- The urge to urinate a lot
- Weight loss
- Rectal bleeding
- Constant pain that is not relieved after a bowel movement
- Urge to pass stool again as soon as you did
- Depression and Anxiety
- Vomiting and indigestion
These symptoms can be long lasting. They can occur weekly for 3 months or for a longer period of time.
Women may experience symptoms during and near their menstruation time or worse symptoms around this time. Symptoms may also increase during pregnancy.
Causes and Triggers of IBS
The exact cause of IBS is still unknown. Though there are several triggers that can lead to IBS.
It is thought that Irritable Bowel syndrome happens due to hypersensitivity of the colon.
Sensitive nerves in the gut can send pain signals to the brain resulting in greater discomfort than usual.
The badly coordinated signals between the intestines and the gut can cause the body to overreact when the abdomen stretches for stool or gas. Therefore resulting in abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea.
Stress in Childhood
People with early life stress experience more symptoms of IBS.
IBS develops after a severe infection like diarrhea. It can also develop as a result of bacterial overgrowth after an infection.
Longer muscle contractions in intestinal walls can cause gas, bloating and diarrhea whereas weaker muscle contractions can slow down the process resulting in dry, hard stool.
High serotonin levels in the colon affect the bowel moments. Moreover, slow movements in the colon can also cause cramping. There are no definite causes of IBS available as of yet.
The definite cause of IBS may not be identified but there are certain triggers that can lead to IBS.
These triggers are mostly linked with either food or stress. While they may not cause IBS, they can definitely increase it.
The relation between food allergies and IBS is unclear.
However, IBS symptoms worsen due to certain foods.
These include dairy products, cabbage, wheat, beans, carbonated drinks and citrus fruits.
These aren’t one size fits all triggers. Some of these may trigger your IBS, some may not.
It is best to keep a food diary to keep a record of food items and beverages that cause you IBS symptoms so that they can be avoided.
Stress affects nerves and the digestive system’s motility is linked to the central nervous system.
Therefore, if you have IBS and are going through stress, then it is highly likely that your colon can become overresponsive. You will have more symptoms of IBS during stress.
Another link is with the immune system.
The immune system affects IBS and is affected by stress.
So, in periods of high stress, IBS symptoms can be triggered more than usual.
Intestinal Bowel Syndrome may affect you more if you are young and have a history of IBS in your family.
People usually get IBS from teens to early 40s.
Diagnosis of IBS
Ibs cannot be diagnosed by a specific lab test.
Your doctor may conduct certain tests, physical examinations and take history to rule out other diseases.
Once, all other similar symptoms conditions have been ruled out, your doctor will use diagnostic criteria to check for IBS.
This criterion checks for pain in the abdomen along with discomfort occurring at least for one day in a week in the previous three months due to two of the following reasons:
- Defecation related pain
- The consistency of the stool has changed
- The frequency of defecation has changed
The criteria determine the type of IBS you may have, IBS(C) constipation-predominant, IBS(D) diarrhea-predominant or IBS(M).
The doctor will also check for other problems to rule them out.
They will check for food allergies like lactose intolerance which can cause constipation and diarrhea in a similar way like INS.
Your doctor can check for enzyme deficiencies in the pancreas that do not break down the food you consume properly.
They will also consider the possibility of IBD and having any infection or the medications you regularly take.
After these are ruled out, your doctor will carry out tests to check for IBS.
They may carry out a colonoscopy to examine the colon for inflammation in the intestines.
An upper endoscopy is done to examine the upper digestive tract and look for bacterial overgrowth in your small intestine to rule out celiac disease.
They will carry out a stool test to determine the presence of an infection.
Further blood tests can be carried out to eliminate the possibility of thyroid or anemia.
An X-ray or CT scan is done to look at your abdomen and pelvis more closely to check for other serious problems related to abdominal pain.
After all these tests come negative, your doctor can deduce that you have Intestinal Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and you can now move forward for treatment.
IBS Treatment is mainly about cutting the foods and environmental factors that trigger your symptoms.
There are also medications available to help your current situation.
However, not every method works for everyone.
You can cut down on food and beverages that trigger your IBS as well as establish a healthy diet and healthy eating habits.
Eating high fiber food helps in bowel movement. So, if you suffer from constipation, this can help reduce that.
You should drink plenty of fluids but if you suffer from gas, then eliminate carbonated drinks and high gas food items from your diet.
You can also try avoiding gluten (wheat, barley) even if you don’t suffer from celiac disease. Reducing gluten in diet has helped people with IBS.
Avoid caffeinated beverages and try to lessen the dairy products you consume.
Include proper exercise and work out in your routine.
If these preventive measures are not giving you any benefit then, your doctor may prescribe some medications.
To control your diarrhea your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medicines like loperamide (Imodium A-D).
For constipation, your doctor may either recommend fiber supplements like psyllium (Metamucil) or over the counter laxatives like polyethylene glycol.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants are given to reduce your depression and improve your mental health as well as containing your pain.
Tricyclic depressants are also used to improve mental health by reducing depression and they inhibit the neurons hence, lessening the registered pain.
Your doctor may also prescribe pain medications like Pregabalin to lessen bloating and abdominal pain.
Furthermore, women are prescribed medicines like Alosetron to slow the bowel movement for IBS(D) patients. These have side effects and are only available through a specialist doctor’s prescription.
We understand that IBS affects your quality of life and mood. Therefore, it is best to not delay any treatment. Come to AlQudrah Medical Center today and find out a solution to your Intestinal Bowel Syndrome.