Irritable Bowel Syndrome

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is known by an assortment of other terms: spastic colon, spastic colitis, mucous colitis and nervous or functional bowel. It is thought of as a disorder of the large intestine (colon), although other parts of the intestinal tract may also be involved.

Why does Irritable Bowel Syndrome cause pain?

The colon, the last five feet of the intestine, serves to dehydrate and store the stool so that, normally, a well-formed soft stool occurs. The colon also quietly propels the stool from the right side over to the rectum, storing it there until it can be evacuated. This movement occurs by orderly contractions of the colon. With IBS the colon will contract in a disordered fashion leading to spasms that may be prolonged or severe. Some IBS patients may experience bloating or cramping while others may encounter abdominal distress which can be severe. It is not unusual to see mucous in the stool.

How did I get IBS?

Some investigators believe that IBS may occur after exposure to an intestinal virus. Others with IBS know that stress is major contributor to the severity if IBS symptoms. Episodes of IBS may be triggered by preservatives or flavor enhancers such as MSG.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not a disease

Although the symptoms of IBS may at times be severe, the disorder itself is not a serious one. There is no actual disease present in the colon. In fact, an operation performed on the abdomen would reveal a perfectly normal appearing bowel.

The syndrome is considered a functional disorder. The condition usually begins in young people, usually below 40 and often in the teens. The symptoms may wax and wane, being particularly severe at some times and absent at others. Over the years, the symptoms tend to become less intense or lifestyle changes used as a coping mechanism minimize the problem.

Are there different Kinds of IBS?

Although IBS can be thought of as one disorder, health professionals categorize IBS into three different conditions: Diarrhea Predominant Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS-D), Constipation Predominant Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS-C) and Alternating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS-A). There are prescription medications that may be used for IBS-C and IBS-D, while IBS-A relies more on fiber and antispasmodics agents. Other disorders and diseases may masquerade as IBS and can be resolved, while IBS requires long term changes in lifestyle. You should consult your health care provider to determine which therapy is right for you.

Is there a treatment for IBS?

  • Eating a diet high in fiber can be helpful. Over-the-counter bulking (insoluble fiber) agents such as psyllium mucilloid (Metamucil, Konsyl) or methylcellulose (Citrucel) serve to hold water and help IBS patients with constipation. Natural foods such as oatmeal, bran layers of cereal grains, fruits and vegetables (soluble fiber).
  • You may also benefit from eating smaller, more frequent meals to minimize the "spastic" response.
  • Antispasmodic medications can help relax the muscles in the wall of the colon, reducing the bowel pressure and interrupt cascades of cramping.
  • Exercise is very beneficial in helping the bowel relax even during non-exercise periods.
  • Stress reduction techniques are helpful but may be different for each patient

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