What Is IBS and How to Know if You Have It?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) a common condition that affects the digestive system, i.e., the large intestine. If you suffer from this condition you are probably experiencing signs and symptoms like stomach cramps and pain, gas, diarrhea, bloating, and constipation. Unfortunately, IBS can be a lifelong chronic condition which can be quite frustrating and influence the quality of your life. It's important to mention if you have severe symptoms, you should seek medical help and support.
But, look on the bright side, not all people suffering from IBS experience severe life-long symptoms. Indeed, if your symptoms aren't that serious, you can easily manage IBS by following a healthy diet and lifestyle and relieving any stress in your life.
IBS Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of IBS can differ and vary from person to person. The symptoms can get worse, but sometimes they can either improve or disappear altogether.
Here are the most common IBS symptoms:
- Stomach pain, cramps, and bloating which is usually relieved by passing a bowel movement
- Constipation or diarrhea, or sometimes both
- Traces of mucus in the stool and excess gas
When to Seek Medical Help?
You should see a doctor if you experience a change in bowel habits or some of the IBS symptoms or signs that last for a long time and are persistent. Such changes can suggest other serious health issues like colon cancer.
Seek instant medical help if you experience some severe and more-serious symptoms which include:
- Night-time diarrhea
- Rectal bleeding
- Iron deficiency
- Swallowing difficulties
- Persistent, not relievable pain
- Weight loss
- Unexplained vomiting
What can Cause IBS?
Even though the exact cause of Irritable bowel syndrome is still unknown, many different factors can affect this syndrome:
- Nervous System
Your digestive system may have some nerves abnormalities that may cause significant discomfort when your stomach stretches due to gas or stool. And, your body can also overreact to changes and result in pain, constipation, or diarrhea if the signals between the intestines and brain aren't coordinated.
- Intestine Muscle Contractions
Layers of muscle are covering the walls of the intestines which contract every time food passes through the digestive tract. Such contractions are normal. But, if you have ones that are stronger or persistent they may cause gas, diarrhea, or bloating. On the other hand, weak contractions can lead to dry and hard stools because they slow down food passage.
- Severe Infection / Gastroenteritis
Gastroenteritis is yet another cause of IBS. It is a common condition that causes diarrhea and vomiting which are a result of a bacterial or viral stomach bug. Or, people may suffer from IBS as a result of bacterial overgrowth, i.e., excess of bacteria in the intestines.
- Intestine Inflammation
Surprisingly but true, some people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome tend to have an increased number of immune-system cells in their intestines. And, whenever these cells are active and respond to some 'immunity threat' pain and diarrhea may appear.
- Microflora Changes
Last but not least, microflora refers to the good bacteria present in the intestines which are crucial for being healthy. And, according to research people who suffer from IBS experience changes in the bacteria in the gut. In other words, they have different microflora from healthy people.
What Can Trigger IBS?
The signs and symptoms of Irritable bowel syndrome may be triggered by:
As we already mentioned, you can relieve IBS symptoms by reducing stress. So, it is entirely logical to conclude that stress can lead to experiencing more severe IBS signs and symptoms. However, stress cannot cause IBS but only aggravate signs and symptoms.
Even though it is still unexplained, food intolerance and allergies may have an impact on experiencing IBS symptoms. Indeed, allergies rarely cause IBS, but the symptoms can get worse after the consumption of certain foods or drinks like citrus fruits, beans, dairy products, cabbage, wheat, carbonated drinks, or milk.
The reason why hormones are believed to have the ability to trigger IBS signs and symptoms is that women are twice more likely to have IBS when compared to men. In fact, women pointed out that their signs and symptoms are more severe around or during their menstrual period. So, experts concluded that hormonal changes can also trigger IBS.
What Puts You at Risk of Having IBS?
Several factors increase the risk of suffering from Irritable bowel movement, including:
- Age - people under 50 are more likely to suffer from IBS
- Gender - women who experience hormonal changes or are undergoing an estrogen therapy
- Genes - people who have relatives having IBS
- Mental health - people who suffer from anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues
Complications and Prevention
Several complications may occur due to IBS. For example, experiencing persistent and chronic diarrhea or constipation can lead to having hemorrhoids. And, having IBS is usually connected to having a poor quality of life and mood disorders.
Yet, you can prevent or relieve IBS signs and symptoms by managing stress and eating plenty of fresh vegetables such as leafy greens. You can try counseling, biofeedback, progressive relaxation exercise, mindfulness training, mindful eating or whatever else works for you.