Do you ever feel like your intestines are out of whack? Are your bowel habits unpredictable? Do you suffer from frequent abdominal pain, cramping, gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea? If so, you may have a common disorder known as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or spastic colon.
While these symptoms may be uncomfortable and interfere with normal life, they will not cause any permanent damage to your colon or increase your risk for colorectal cancer. Most people can learn to control IBS and improve their symptoms by managing their lifestyle, diet, and stress. Unlike other intestinal diseases such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, very few people are disabled by IBS.
Wondering whether IBS is affecting you, and what you can do to relieve your symptoms? Wonder no more.
The symptoms of IBS vary from person to person. While one may suffer mainly from diarrhea, someone else may have to deal with frequent constipation. Some people living with IBS have only mild or occasional symptoms, whereas others have chronic daily problems with their intestines. And IBS isn't always a lifelong struggle. Some suffer IBS symptoms for a short period of their life, maybe while they're under particular stress or while eating a certain diet. When their situation or diet changes, the symptoms improve or even disappear. If you think you may have IBS or if you've had recent changes in your bowel habits, make an appointment to see your doctor. It is important to rule out other serious diseases that have similar signs and symptoms.
The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is unknown. For some reason the intestinal muscles malfunction. In some cases, they contract longer and stronger than normal - causing food to be passed more quickly, resulting in gas, bloating, and diarrhea. In other cases, the opposite occurs. The intestinal muscles don't contract strong or long enough to move food through, causing constipation.
Many factors may contribute to the symptoms of IBS. It may be your muscles or it may be your nervous system, abnormal levels of serotonin (a chemical messenger that communicates between the brain and digestive system), an imbalance of good intestinal bacteria, or hormones.
Some people associate triggers to their IBS symptoms. These include certain foods, stressors, or emotions. Common food culprits include milk, chocolate, and alcohol, all which may cause diarrhea or constipation. Some vegetables (especially cauliflower, broccoli, beans, and cabbage), fruits, fatty foods, or carbonated beverages have been found to cause gas and discomfort for people with IBS.
Many people with IBS find that their symptoms worsen when they are stressed, under pressure, or experience certain emotions like anger or anxiety. While these may aggravate the symptoms, they don't seem to cause them.
If IBS is interfering with your normal life - keeping you away from social activities, hurting your sex life, causing painful hemorrhoids, or making you feel discouraged, it is time to get treatment. If your symptoms aren't relieved by stress management, dietary changes, and regular exercise, your doctor may suggest fiber supplements to control constipation, anti-diarrheal medication to control occasional diarrhea, anticholinergic medication to relieve bowel spasms, antidepressants, or professional counseling to help you manage stress.
It's no fun having irritable bowel syndrome. You may wonder why your intestines can't just be normal like everyone else's? But IBS is a common condition. Millions are secretly suffering from the same symptoms. Besides, with stress and diet management, you can find the relief you're seeking and get on with a full and happy life!