Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder, affecting an estimated 15% of the population. It is one of the several conditions known as functional gastrointestinal disorders. This means the bowel may function abnormally, but tests are normal and there are no detectable structural defects.
Symptoms vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe. IBS is a long- term condition, so symptoms may come and go and change over time. Fever, low red blood cell levels, rectal bleeding, and unexplained weight loss are not signs of IBS and may indicate a serious medical problem.
IBS symptoms include:
No clear answer exists as to what causes IBS. It is believed that the symptoms occur due to abnormal functioning or communication between the nervous system and bowel muscles.
Abnormal regulation may result in increased bowel “irritation” or sensitivity. The muscles in the bowel wall may lose their coordination, contracting too much or too little at certain times. While there is no physical obstruction, a patient may feel like cramps are a functional blockage.
All of the following have been identified as possible IBS risk factors:
THE ROLE OF STRESS
IBS is not caused by stress or anxiety and is not a mental health disorder. However, emotional stress may be a factor in the onset of IBS episodes. Many people experience worse IBS symptoms when they are nervous or anxious.
No single test can confirm the diagnosis or IBS. A careful history and physical examination but a colon and rectal surgeon or other physician is essential. This is done to rule out more serious conditions. The two following criteria are helpful in making a diagnosis:
Stress and anxiety do not cause IBS, but may trigger episodes or makes symptoms worse. Knowing that IBS is not serious condition may ease a patient’s anxiety or stress. The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms. There may be some trial and error before an effective approach is found.
THE ROLE OF DIET
Dietary fiber can play a positive or negative role in IBS. For some people, too much fiber can increase bloating and cause abdominal pain. For others, eating foods high in fiber can help ease chronic constipation. Using a diary for two or three weeks can help identify foods and activities that seem to trigger or worsen symptoms.
No single medication works for everyone. People with moderate to severe IBS may benefit from prescribed medication. Anti-spasmodic medication may help control symptoms. Other patients improve when prescribed antidepressants in low doses.
Having IBS does not put you at risk for more serious problems. The condition does not cause cancer, bleeding, or inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis. However, if you experience rectal bleeding or unexplained weight loss, you should consult a colon and rectal surgeon as soon as possible.
Patience is the key when dealing with this condition. Achieving relief from IBS symptoms can be a slow process. It may take six months or longer for symptoms to improve. If nothing is done, symptoms may come and go. The condition may improve or get worse over time and continue to impact the quality of your life.