What is IBS
Discover the real facts about IBS, its causes, symptoms, triggers, and the best types of treatment available for irritable bowel syndrome.
Irritable bowel syndrome, is an illness that comprises a group of conditions that represent a state of dysfunctional bowel motility or movement. Once referred to as colitis, mucous colitis, spastic colon, and spastic colitis, this disorder covers the entire bowel, from the small intestine to the rectum. People who suffer from this disorder often have different symptoms, but the most common symptoms consist of changes in bowel habits, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation.
IBS affects a significant part of the population, with studies indicating as much as 20% of Americans may be afflicted with its symptoms. Although these symptoms can be quite troublesome, the good news is this disorder is not a fatal disease; it does not shorten one’s life span nor does it lead to more serious disorders like cancer. Irritable bowel is a condition that can be managed and it can eventually be eliminated through proper treatment. Studies have shown that over 80% of those afflicted with this condition have improved during their initial medical treatment. Clearly, one can be optimistic about leading an active and healthy life when treatment is complete.
Causes of Irritable Bowel
Medical science can not adequately explain why people come down with IBS. Doctors feel that this disorder results from a combination of heredity and the environment. Making things even more complicated, whereas there is a wide range of bowel dysfunction associated with the disorder, no two patients manifest with exactly the same symptoms. It seems to be characterized by psychological factors, altered motility of the bowel, and a heightened sensory mechanism of the bowel.
You can see that irritable bowel is an individual disorder where different factors can cause each case. For some patients, a food allergy may have triggered the disorder. For others, an infection may be responsible for the onset of irritable bowel. Yet for some individuals, psychological factors may have set the disorder in motion. We know that the following foods seems to instigate irritable bowel attacks: chocolate, dairy products, the caffeine in coffee and sodas, and alcohol. Stress also can play a major role in contributing to this disorder. And for women, irritable bowel attacks can become more severe during menstruation.
Symptoms of this Disorder
As we mentioned above, IBS is usually associated with altered bowel habits and abdominal pain. Interestingly, the symptoms of irritable bowel do not become more severe over time. Rather, symptoms seem to alternate in severity, becoming stronger then weaker. While symptoms vary widely among patients, patients tend to develop a recognizable pattern of symptoms over time. Also, with time, many patients are able to identify the triggers that precipitate their attacks.
Irritable bowel patients can experience any variety of the following symptoms. We should mention that doctors will look for a period of three continuous months of symptoms before confirming a diagnosis (known as the Rome criteria):
• irritable bowel with diarrhea
• irritable bowel with constipation
• abdominal pain
• urinary dysfunction
• decreased sex drive
• urgency prior to defecation
• mucous in bowel movementsClick here for IBS links and information on allergies.
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Treatment of Irritable Bowel
IBS treatment can consist of a combination of therapies. Those seeking help for irritable bowel will often try one or more of the following options: drugs, nutritional supplements, dietary changes, psychotherapy, and alternative treatment. We will discuss each treatment below.
two antidepressants have emerged as the major pharmacological treatment for irritable bowel: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants. These medicines can decrease symptoms because they may block an individual’s perception of pain in the gut.
Nutritional Supplements -
Whether or not nutritional supplements are beneficial for treating irritable bowel remains a subject of controversy. For those who would like to take this approach, it may be prudent to add one or two supplements to their diet and wait a period of time to evaluate the results. It may also be wise to be tested in order to ascertain if vitamin or mineral deficiencies exist:
• Caraway Oil - helps with spasms and antibacterial activity
• Acidopholus - improves the bowel’s microflora population
• Folic Acid - may be helpful for irritable bowel
• Grapefruit Seed Extract - helps to reduce symptoms
• Peppermint Oil - can relax gastrointestinal muscles
• Vitamin C - helps those IBS patients with an inadequate absorption of nutrients
• Zinc - helps those patients with an inadequate absorption of nutrients
• Ginger - a remedy for diarrhea and stomach upset
• Chamomile - antispasmodic properties
• Valerian - antispasmodic properties
• Rosemary - antispasmodic properties
• Lemon Balm - antispasmodic properties
It is believed that food allergies play a role in many cases of irritable bowel syndrom. Certain foods are associated with triggering IBS symptoms, whether by allergic reaction or intolerance. Therefore, patients on an IBS diet will need to avoid the following foods: dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, greasy foods, eggs, wheat, corn, sulfites, citrus fruits, and sorbitol.
Also known as Integrative Medicine, this approach can be describes as using non-traditional techniques in order to prevent disease. An increasing number of people are using alternative treatment along with traditional treatment. It is estimated that about 1/3 of Americans have tried integrative medicine. In other countries, that number is higher.
Originating from Chinese medicine, employs needles that are place along energy meridians. Needles attempt to release blocked energy; the cause of various illnesses.
Machines are used to produce audible signals that represent biological functions. Patients can learn to consciously influence their symptoms in order to control or eliminate them.
A therapist produces an altered state of consciousness in patients, thereby sending “suggestions” to the patient in an attempt to remove IBS symptoms.
Stress Management Techniques
This can incorporate a wide variety of approaches, including: visualization, yoga, meditation, and reflexology.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - The behavioral component of this approach attempts to change the way patients react to troubling situations by altering behaviors that have become habitual. Cognitive therapy focuses on teaching patients that the way we think influences how we act.
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by Bob Fioravante, M.S.