What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

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Irritable bowel syndrome is a very uncomfortable condition that causes abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. The pain is attributed to the large intestine, but there is no long-lasting damage. Patients who suffer from the condition can usually make changes in their diet and stress levels to control the pain and discomfort.

Causes

  • There is no known cause for irritable bowel syndrome. In some patients with the disorder, food is passed through the digestive process quickly, causing diarrhea and discomfort from bloating. The intestines contract and relax to move food through the process; in patients with irritable bowel syndrome, these contractions are much stronger. Other patients with the same disorder experience the opposite effect, with food moving slower through the digestive process and causing constipation and discomfort.
    Certain foods may cause the symptoms to become worse or more noticeable, but these foods aren't the cause of the disorder. When foods are thought to be the cause of digestive problems, the condition is more accurately diagnosed as a food allergy or intolerance.
    Emotions and stress can trigger symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. These emotional responses aren't the cause of the condition but cause the symptoms to become more noticeable and uncomfortable.

Symptoms

  • Every patient experiences irritable bowel syndrome in a different way. Although some experience mild symptoms, others find that their condition affects daily functioning. Symptoms include cramping and pain in the abdomen, gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and mucus in the stools.
    Changes in your bowel movements may be a sign of a more serious condition. A visit to the doctor can determine if you have irritable bowel syndrome or another condition. The doctor can also recommend some treatments for relief.

Lifestyle

  • Some patients find relief from their symptoms with lifestyle changes, such as getting enough rest and sleep. Regular exercise also can relieve stress and anxiety that can aggravate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
    Eating a well-balanced diet is recommended for patients with the condition, but there's no particular diet that should be followed. Every patient experiences symptoms triggered by different foods. Fiber and plenty of water help with constipation, as well as staying away from foods that can affect the intestines--such as coffee and caffeinated beverages.

Medications

  • Antispasmodics are prescribed for patients with irritable bowel syndrome to help relieve the reaction of the colon to emotional situations and foods. The medications are prescribed to be taken before meals, but they can be taken on an as-needed basis as well.
    Antidepressants in low dosages are prescribed to treat this condition. The drug affects the serotonin that's located in the gut. Some patients experience a worsening of their symptoms with the use of these medications.
    Opioid medications can be given to relieve pain from irritable bowel syndrome. These are also prescribed to help with attacks of the condition that are related to stress and anxiety.
    Anti-diarrhea medications and anti-constipation medications can be prescribed for patients with the condition. These medications are prescribed to relieve particular symptoms.

Alternative Treatments

  • Natural alternative treatments are used to treat irritable bowel syndrome. Peppermint oil is taken as a supplement in capsule form to relieve pain and bloating. Children and pregnant women should not take it.
    Acupuncture also helps to relieve the abdominal pain of irritable bowel syndrome. It's often used in conjunction with other treatments as a pain reliever.

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