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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Digestive Health

By Dr. Saravana.K

It is a common disorder that affects your large intestine (colon).

Symptoms

The signs and symptoms can vary widely from person to person and often resemble those of other diseases. Among the most common are: abdominal pain or cramping; bloating; gas (flatulence); diarrhoea or constipation; mucus in the stool.

Despite these uncomfortable signs and symptoms, IBS doesn’t cause permanent damage to your colon. Because symptoms of IBS can occur with other more serious diseases, it’s best to discuss these symptoms with your doctor. For most people, IBS is a chronic condition, although there will likely be times when the signs and symptoms are worse and times when they improve or even disappear completely.

Causes

It’s not known exactly what causes IBS. The walls of the intestines are lined with layers of muscle that contract and relax in a coordinated rhythm as they move food from your stomach through your intestinal tract to your rectum. If you have  IBS, the contractions may be stronger and last longer than normal. Food is forced through your intestines more quickly, causing gas, bloating and diarrhoea.

In some cases, the opposite occurs. Food passage slows, and stools become hard and dry. Abnormalities in your nervous system or colon also may play a role, causing you to experience greater than normal discomfort when your intestinal wall stretches from gas.

Triggers

If you have IBS you probably react strongly to stimuli that don’t bother other people.

Foods. carbonated beverages and some fruits and vegetables may lead to bloating and discomfort in some people with IBS.

Stress

Hormones. Many women find that signs and symptoms are worse during or around their menstrual periods.

Criteria for making a diagnosis

A diagnosis of IBS depends largely on a complete medical history and physical examination Diagnosis is often a process of elimination. To help in this process, researchers have developed diagnostic criteria in which the bowel appears normal, but doesn’t function normally.

The most important symptom is abdominal pain and discomfort lasting at least 12 weeks, though the weeks don’t have to occur consecutively.

You also must have at least two of the following: a change in the frequency or consistency of your stool; straining, urgency or a feeling that you can’t empty your bowels completely; mucus in your stool; or bloating or abdominal distension.

Your doctor will likely assess how you fit these criteria, as well as whether you have any other signs or symptoms that might suggest another, more-serious condition including: new onset after age 50, weight loss; rectal bleeding; fever; nausea or recurrent vomiting; abdominal pain  not completely relieved by a bowel movement; or diarrhoea that is persistent.

If you have these red flag signs or symptoms, you’ll need additional testing to further assess your condition.

Additional tests

Your doctor may recommend several tests, including stool studies to check for infection or malabsorption problems. Colonoscopy – a small, flexible tube is used to examine the entire length of the colon or CT scan.

Treatments and drugs

Because it’s not clear what causes IBS, treatment focuses on the relief of symptoms so that you can live as normally as possible.

In most cases, you can successfully control mild signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome by learning to manage stress and making changes in your diet and lifestyle. Your doctor may suggest: fibre supplements; anti-diarrhoeal medications; eliminating high-gas foods – cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower; anticholinergic medications – some people need medications that affect certain activities of the autonomic nervous system to relieve painful bowel spasms; antidepressant medications; or counselling.

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