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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Symptoms and treatment of IBS

As one of the most common gastrointestinal problems worldwide, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can strike anyone, from adults to children. It is significantly more common in women than men, and can be mild to severe. If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, you're not alone. Information on IBS is readily available and can help you better understand your condition.

What is irritable bowel syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a term used for several bothersome abdominal symptoms and altered defecation patterns. Often, people who suffer from IBS experience unexpected periods of relief and periods of severity with the disease.

Symptoms of IBS include:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping that is relieved by defecation
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Frequent changes in stool
  • Urgency or feeling of incomplete evacuation
  • Abdominal bloating or distention
  • Bursts of bowel activity that may lead to fecal incontinence

Although the cause of irritable bowel syndrome is unknown, there are several triggers that can aggravate the disease, including:

  • Dietary allergies and change in fiber intake
  • Stress
  • Antibiotic use
  • Poor absorption of bile or acid
  • Change in physical activity
  • Chronic alcohol abuse
  • Abnormalities in gastrointestinal movements and peristalsis

Treatment

Your family doctor will make his or her diagnosis by asking you what kind of symptoms you're experiencing. Frequent bursts of watery diarrhea are typical of IBS-D. Frequent constipation is normally symptomatic of IBS-C. Alternating between these two extremes is IBS-A. Knowing what kind of irritable bowel syndrome symptom group you have will help your doctor to decide on treatment. Your doctor will also likely order a number of tests to help determine the proper diagnosis.

Diet change is perhaps the best irritable bowel syndrome treatment. People who suffer from IBS are more sensitive to intestinal movements and gas passing through the system (nerve endings in the bowels are extra-sensitive), so eating foods that promote a healthy bowel and less gas will reduce the urgency and diarrhea. For people who suffer from constipation, an IBS diet will help soften their stools and regulate their bowel movements.

Medication

Medication is also an option to help control symptoms of IBS. The medications calm the bowel's urgent movements to decrease the number of bowel movements (and subsequent potential accidents). Also, probiotics are starting to be used as a natural way to treat bacterial imbalances in the bowels and reduce symptoms. Lastly, doctors may suggest therapy or psychological treatment if the symptoms are being exacerbated by stress. IBS is not a psychological disorder, but it's made worse by stress.

IBS is an upsetting and embarrassing disorder, but you don't have to suffer alone. There are many support groups and websites online that can help you decide on medications and diet changes, and talk to people who have experienced your symptoms.

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