Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a common disorder that affects the large bowel. It is not related to other bowel conditions. This syndrome occurs in all age groups and is a chronic condition that needs to be managed for a long time. The symptoms of IBS can range from person to person.

It does not have a tendency to turn malignant. Though, it can cause intestinal damages in some cases.

What are the symptoms?

People with irritable bowel syndrome have symptoms ranging from very little symptoms to severe. Some of the common signs and symptoms include

  • cramping
  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • gas
  • diarrhoea
  • constipation

Only a small number of people with IBS have severe signs and symptoms. People with IBS experience times when the signs and symptoms are worse and times when they improve or are completely asymptomatic.

But you must visit your doctor if you have a persistent change in your bowel habits or other symptoms of IBS. This may indicate serious conditions such as colon cancer. You must visit the doctor if you have the following symptoms:

  • weight loss
  • Diarrhoea at night which disrupts normal sleep
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Anaemia
  • Unexplained vomiting
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Persistent pain that isn’t relieved by passing gas or a bowel movement

Causes for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The precise cause of IBS is unknown. Possible causes for IBS include an overly sensitive colon or immune systems. There are other factions that play a role which include:

  • Muscle contractions in the intestine that are stronger and last longer than normal ones which cause gas, bloating, diarrhoea. Weak intestinal contractions can also play a role in slowing down the food passage process.
  • Abnormalities in the nerves in your digestive system can cause you to experience more discomfort than normal. Poor coordination between the brain and intestine can cause pain, diarrhoea or constipation
  • People with IBS have an increased number of immune-system cells in their system. This happens due to inflammation in the intestines when the cells respond to this it causes pain and diarrhoea
  • IBS can develop after severe infections such as gastroenteritis caused by a bacteria or virus. IBS might be associated with a surplus of bacteria in the system
  • Changes in the bacteria present in the gut. The microflora present in healthy people might differ from the microflora present in people with IBS

Though the causes are unknown, there are some things that trigger the onset of the symptoms.

Common triggers for IBS

The key to managing IBS symptoms is to identify and avoid what triggers. Your onset of symptoms can be caused by certain foods and as well as stress or anxiety. It is helpful to keep a food diary for a period of time to learn which foods are triggers for you.

Recognising situations that may increase your levels of stress and anxiety can help. You can discuss it along with your therapist or by yourself to strategize and limit your stress and anxiety.

Diagnosis of IBS

Your doctor may diagnose your IBS by performing tests and ruling out other possibilities for the cause of your symptom. Some of the tests or steps your doctor might perform are:

  • Adopting a certain diet or cutting off specific food groups to rule out allergies
  • Having a stool sample examined
  • Blood tests are done to check for anaemia and rule out celiac diseases
  • Perform a colonoscopy (if your doctor suspects colitis, Crohn’s disease or cancer)

There is no test to diagnose IBS but your doctor will start with a full physical exam and knowing your medical history.

Risk factors for IBS

Many people have occasional signs and symptoms of IBS but you are most likely to develop IBS if you are:

  • Young (under 50)
  • Female
  • A family history of IBS
  • Mental health issues

Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Before the treatment, the patients should be advised about the chronic nature of the condition. The treatment for IBS is control rather than cure. Improving the quality of life is the main focus. Mild signs and symptoms can often be controlled by managing your stress and making changes in your diet and lifestyle. To improve your symptoms, you can try to:

  • Avoid food that triggers
  • Eat high-fibre foods
  • Hydrating yourself
  • Exercise regularly
  • Getting enough sleep

You can also consult with your dietician if you think food is one of your main concerns, your doctor might suggest you eliminate high gas or bloating food, gluten, and certain foods and vegetables. Anti-spasmodic, pain medication, laxative or anti-diarrhoeal medicines may be prescribed to alleviate the symptoms. Probiotics can also help with your symptoms. When things fail, psychotherapy or counselling is used to help you with your mental health.

Researchers are also investigating new treatments for IBS such as serum immunoglobulin isolate, nutritional therapy has been proved promising.

Some of the home remedies you can follow include:

  • Regularly exercising
  • Cutting back on caffeine
  • Smaller meals
  • Minimising stress
  • Probiotics
  • Avoiding deep-fried or spicy foods

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Dr. Karthik Gunasekaran