Irritable bowel Syndrome, or IBS for short, is a very common disorder of the large intestine, specifically the colon.
Some of the more common symptoms include bloating, gas, a white, slimy discharge in your stool, cramping, diarrhea and constipation.
Don’t worry though; even though these symptoms cause discomfort and are sometimes difficult to live with, there is no scientific evidence that it damages your colon or your intestine nor does IBS cause inflammation or changes in any of your bowel or intestinal tissues.
Fortunately, there are several treatments for irritable bowel syndrome and many of them involve simple changes without medical intervention and only a very small percentage of people experience severe symptoms.
Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Before discussing treatments, let’s review what exactly happens when you experience IBS. Your intestinal walls have layers of muscle that contract and relax in order to move food from your stomach and through your intestines.
If you are suffering from irritable bowel syndrome then one of two things is happening. Either your muscles are contracting more strongly than is normal and your food is forced through your system too quickly, or your muscles aren’t contracting strongly enough.
If the first scenario is happening to you, you get the gas, bloating, cramps and diarrhea. If the second scenario applies to you, you get bloated and constipated because your food is passing through too slowly and your stool becomes hard. Even though nobody knows for sure what causes this to happen, there are a few situations that have been identified as irritating the problem.
You may find that your IBS symptoms get worse when you eat certain foods such as chocolate, alcohol, fruits, vegetables, milk or carbonated sodas. Why these foods tend to exacerbate your condition isn’t clear, but it does. Stress and gastroenteritis also seems to irritate IBS symptoms as do hormonal changes in women.
Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
When you go to your doctor for a diagnosis, he will most likely use the Rome criteria, which is a set of questions because quite simply, diagnosing a gastrointestinal illness is largely a process of elimination.
One of the leading criteria is that you have been experiencing your symptoms for more than 12 weeks (not necessarily concurrently) and you must exhibit at least two of the following symptoms: bloating or abdominal distension, mucus in your stool, straining or a feeling that you can’t empty your bowels or a change in frequency or consistency of your bowel movements.
Your doctor may also do a colonoscopy, a flexible sigmoidoscopy that examines the lower part of your colon, a CT scan, blood tests or lactose intolerance tests. Many times these exams are only to rule out more serious illness such as cancer, Crohn’s disease or celiac disease.
Because the cause of IBS isn’t known, doctors focus on treating the symptoms.
Often, you may control them by simply adding fiber to your diet, avoiding foods that you know cause you discomfort, eating on a regular schedule, drinking plenty of fluids and exercising regularly.
If this doesn’t help, your doctor may suggest antibiotics, anti-diarrheal medicines, anticholinergic medicines to help with the cramps, or even antidepressants and counseling to help you with your stress levels.
If you absolutely have to use medications to treat your diarrhea or constipation do so with care.
Also, fiber supplements have been known to cause gas and bloating so if you decide to add this to your diet, do so slowly so that you don’t cause more of the symptoms that you are trying to alleviate. Irritable bowl syndrome can be uncomfortable but usually proper management will keep it from interfering with your life.