Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (usually referred to as IBS) is a disorder of the large intestine that lasts for a long period of time. People who have IBS experience symptoms like constipation or diarrhea. These symptoms can occur one after another. A person can experience constipation at some times and diarrhea at other times. Occurrences of lower bowel irritation may also be accompanied by mild pain, swelling of the stomach and a lot of digestive gas. Other names for IBS are spastic bowel, spastic colon, irritable colon syndrome, and functional bowel disease.
A person who has IBS can lead a normal life. One would think that with continual diarrhea that a person with IBS would lose weight, be malnourished, or that they would develop more serious digestive problems. However, these are very rare. Only in a very small number of cases does IBS become so disabling that it can interfere with a persons normal activities. But some people withdraw from activities because the diarrhea or constipation bothers them. In such cases, doctors may recommend mental health counseling.
Most patients who have IBS seek help from a gastroenterologist. A gastroenterologist is a doctor who specializes in the digestive system. Tests to diagnose IBS might include lab analyses of feces and barium X-rays of the lower digestive tract. For a barium X-ray, a patient drinks a special kind of liquid drink that contains barium. With the barium, the doctor can see how the liquid flows through the digestive system. A doctor may also perform a sigmoidoscopy. This is an instrument on a long thin tube that is inserted through the anal opening up inside the colon. With this test, a doctor can visually examine the inside walls of the intestine. If these tests are negative, it is typically determined that a patient has IBS because all other possibilities are eliminated. Statistics show that about twice as many women develop IBS when compared to men. Most people who have IBS are adults rather than children.
There is no underlying cause for IBS. It is known that a person who has IBS has abnormal contractions, or spasms of the muscles of the colon. However, through research, it has not been found that IBS is caused by abnormal action of the colon. The colon is what moves food wastes through the large intestine. Some of the contractions cause constipation, pain, and gas. Other contractions may cause bouts of diarrhea.
In addition to the constipation, diarrhea, and gas, other symptoms of IBS include a puffing-out of the abdomen, mucus with ones fecal matter, and a feeling of not having emptied the bowel. Doctors have been unable to find an organic cause. IBS has been thought to be caused by emotional conflict or stress. While stress may worsen IBS symptoms, research suggests that other factors also are important. Researchers have found that the colon muscle of a person with IBS begins to spasm after only mild stimulation. People who have IBS should not eat certain foods because they can intensify the symptoms. Some of these foods are cheese, milk, other dairy products, and other foods that produce gas such as cabbage.
There is no standard way of treating IBS. A doctor may prescribe over-the-counter fiber supplements or occasional laxatives if you are constipated, or may prescribe over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medicine if you are suffering from diarrhea. Most doctors recommend a person with IBS to change their diet. A diet with increased fiber will help relieve the effects of IBS. Also, a person should eat several small meals each day instead of two or three large meals.
The Disease Book,
Microsoft Encarta98 Encyclopedia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome
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