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IBS: Symptoms, Causes and an Overview.

 

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What it does.

Many people with mild IBS symptoms are to embarrassed to contact a doctor. They may have an increase in bloating and gas, with periods of constipation, or diahreah. Others can have symptoms that are more troublesome, such as severe abdominal cramps, bloating, and diahreah or severe constipation. These symptoms have the ability to alter a persons lifestyle. The pain and cramping can be debilitating, frequent bathroom stops can affect your social life, career and family relationships.

The most common symptom people experience is abdominal pain. It can range from mild to severe. Eating or passing gas can either make you feel better, or worse. Other symptoms your doctor will look for are weight loss, blood in the stool and stools with a distinctive odor. The pain may occur at a certain time of day, usually in the evening, but varies from patient to patient. Patients should keep a journal of their symptoms, when they occur and what they have eaten during the day. The pain level in women can often concur with their menstrual cycle.

People with IBS may find that their stools vary in consistency from loose and watery, to hard. Many report the presence of  mucus around the stool. Patients also report symptoms such as disrupted sleep, the need to urinate more often, inability to eat a large quantity of food, back pain, depression, groin pain, and pain during sexual intercourse.

What Causes It?

Nobody knows what causes IBS, it is termed a functional disorder. This means that the way the bowel works is affected, but medical experts can not find any physical abnormalities to explain why.

The most common theory is that muscle contractions in the bowels wall are triggered by foods, stress and sleep patterns. One school of thought suggests that it may be triggered by a serious infection, either bacterial or viral, or by a trauma such as food poisoning.

Diagnosis

When you visit your doctor, he/she will list all of your symptoms and form a plan to rule out other conditions that may mimic IBS. They will send you for various tests, such as biopsies, colonoscopies, x-rays and a sigmoidoscopy.

Colonoscopy: A flexible tube is passed through the rectum into the colon, allowing the doctor to see the the large bowel.
Biopsy: A small piece of tissue is removed by a surgeon for testing. (This is to rule out Inflammatory Bowel Disease)
X-Ray: The colon is filled with Barium, in the form of an enema, which shows up on x-rays.
Sigmoidoscopy: A flexible telescope is  inserted through the anus into the rectum. (Uncomfortable but not painful)

Treatment

Although there is no cure for IBS, there are treatments that can help your symptoms.

Symptom Help:

  • To find out what foods may trigger your IBS, eliminate one food at a time from your diet and track your symptoms. Then, after a period of not eating that food, reintroduce it to your diet and see if the symptoms return.
  • If your main symptom is diahreah, avoid tea, coffee, spicy foods, sorbitol and alcohol.
  • If your main symptom is constipation, eat plenty of fiber. To avoid bloating and gas avoid foods like beans and broccoli.
  • Drink six to eight glasses of water a day. The water helps those with constipation by moving the fiber through your system. It helps those with diarrhea by replacing lost fluids.
  • Move! You may not feel like it, but something as simple was taking a walk can keep your bowels moving.

See a Doctor:

    Don't try to go it alone. Contact your doctor, let them rule out other possible reasons for your symptoms and offer new treatments you may not be aware of. Make sure make them aware of all medications you may be taking and any supplements you may be using.

Jane Kohler-Lutz
2007