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Irritable bowel syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

Irritable Bowel Syndrome affects the large intestine and causes changes in bowel movements. It may not show many symptoms in many people unless it is severe. Only a few people need treatment and others can easily manage with a regular diet and healthy lifestyle. Some of the common signs of irritable bowel syndrome include pain in the abdominal region and bloating of the stomach. However, these symptoms may last only for a short duration and it will become normal by itself when the bowel is cleared. Only in extreme cases, the symptoms can be severely painful and this needs proper treatment. It is easy to treat this condition with proper medication and you will get relief in the long run. However, it cannot be cured completely and you need to take care of your lifestyle and diet. Generally people are most likely to suffer from this health condition in late teens to around 40 years. Though it is not a long lasting problem, however, if not treated on time it might lead to serious health issue. Irritable bowel syndrome also increases the chances of intestinal damage in some cases.

 

Types of Irritable Bowel Syndrome:

  • With Constipation: When you are suffering from this condition, it can lead to pain and discomfort in the abdominal region. The bowel movements will become very irregular and it becomes very difficult to pass stools as they are usually hard. It can also lead to bloating of the stomach for a long duration.
  • With Diarrhea: There will be urgency with regards to passing stools and you will notice that this happens many times within a day. The motions will be watery and you may also experience severe pain in the stomach. The discomfort can last for a long time even after passing stools.
  • With both Constipation and Diarrhea:  this can be difficult to handle as the symptoms will be very confusing. You may not be sure about what to eat as nothing will give you quick relief in this condition. It is common when you have irritable bowel syndrome and you may experience alternate conditions of diarrhoea and constipation for many days.

 

Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome:

  • Most of us have experienced some of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome at some point in our lives. It is so common and it will go away on its own after a few days or even hours.
  • Most people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome complain about cramps in the abdominal region and this can cause a lot of pain. It causes a great amount of discomfort that will force them to make changes to their lifestyle as they cannot work in normal conditions and may need to visit the restroom many times in a day.
  • Other common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include bloating and gas formation in the abdominal region. This will usually be relieved after passing stools and you may again experience bloating in a few hours.
  • Some people experience constipation and it can become very hard to pass stools when you have this condition. On the other hand, some people also experience diarrhoea for an extended duration when they are suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. It can create two extreme symptoms depending on various factors.
  • Even the bowel movements will not be regular and smooth and most often, people have difficulty in passing stools and they feel incomplete even after emptying the bowel. Apart from that, there will be a sudden urge for bowel movements and this can indicate the irritable bowel syndrome condition.
  • While these issues can also be due to common digestive disorders, it is classified as irritable bowel syndrome only when the symptoms last for a long duration and they keep coming back regularly.
  • However, when you notice any bleeding in the stools or experience sudden weight loss and symptoms of anaemia, remember to get in touch with your doctor immediately as they are not the usual symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and you need immediate medical attention to treat this condition.

 

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Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome:

  • Stomach Infection: Any infection in the stomach due to a virus or bacteria can lead to irritable bowel syndrome condition. You need to watch out the symptoms carefully and approach your doctor when you are having such symptoms for a long duration.
  • Psychological conditions: Severe anxiety or depression can affect the way in which your body digests food and this can lead to irritable bowel syndrome in the long run. Many people notice increased production of acids in the body when they are stressed and this affects the normal functioning of the digestive system.
  • Intestine problems: In some cases, the inflammation of the intestine can lead to irritable bowel syndrome. This leads to severe pain and patients also experience diarrhoea for a long duration. In other cases, the digestive tract muscles may not flex properly leading to spasms. This can create pain and food does not pass freely through the intestine leading to irritable bowel syndrome. When the contractions of these muscles are very strong instead of soft movements, it leads to the accumulation of gas and patients experience bloating followed by pain in the stomach region.
  • Lack of gut bacteria: our body has a good number of gut bacteria that break down food materials in the intestine. A lack of this gut bacteria can lead to digestive problems and this often leads to irritable bowel syndrome in many people.
  • Nervous system: When the abdomen releases gas or passes stool, it stretches accordingly to make way for the waste to get eliminated from the body. This change is completely normal and the nerves in the digestive system will not get overexcited about this situation. However, due to some lack of coordination in the nervous system, the body overreacts to such process and this often leads to diarrhoea or constipation. It can be very painful to experience this condition.

 

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Diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome:

There is no specific test to determine the condition of irritable bowel syndrome in the body. New research has come up with few blood tests that claim to identify certain types of irritable bowel syndrome conditions effectively. However, they are not yet approved by FDA and most doctors resort to the regular pattern of diagnosis.

  • Physical examination: This is done to rule out other conditions as the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can be similar to other complications of the digestive system. When you are suffering from the problem for many months, your doctor may suggest you take blood tests to determine the infection in the intestine to diagnose the problem. Also, remember that this can occur due to celiac disease when the body becomes intolerant to gluten and doctors also consider this issue while performing the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Imaging tests:  A regular colonoscopy is performed to determine any problems with the colon region and this can give them a fair idea of the overall health condition. Similarly, x-ray along with a CT scan of the abdominal region may reveal about the cause of the pain in this region. In some cases, even barium test is done to identify the issues with the intestine.
  • Laboratory tests: Remember that lactose intolerance can also lead to this condition and many people suffer from irritable bowel syndrome after consuming dairy products. This test helps the doctors identify IBS condition in a clear manner and proper treatment will be suggested based on the results. Along with this, a breath test is also done so that the bacterial growth in the intestine can be determined easily. An overgrowth of bacteria can lead to slow digestion and this can also produce some symptoms of IBS. In some cases, an endoscopy test is done to detect the presence of bacteria in the digestive tract and a biopsy can also be done in this manner. Finally, a stool test is done to diagnose the presence of bacteria and to analyze the performance of the intestine with regards to absorbing nutrition from the food.

 

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Prevention of Irritable Bowel Syndrome:

  • Patients should understand that prevention of irritable bowel syndrome always begins with eating the right kind of foods and avoiding the ones that may trigger the symptoms.
  • Always try to avoid high gas foods as they can increase the chances of bloating in the stomach region. This can cause discomfort and lead to other complications. Always try to limit the consumption of alcohol and caffeine.
  • Some people are allergic to gluten and this can trigger IBS condition in them. Upon experiencing similar symptoms, patients should completely avoid gluten food and look for other alternatives.
  • Always eat foods rich in fibre content as they will improve digestion and keep your bowel movements smooth. This is the best way to avoid irritable bowel syndrome

 

Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome:

  • The entire process of treatment for this condition is aimed at reducing the symptoms at the earliest and taking proper preventive measures to avoid them in future.
  • The first thing that needs to be done is to identify the foods that trigger the symptoms in your body and you need to stay away from them for a long time.
  • Along with this, making suitable changes to the diet as per the instructions of the doctor will help to avoid the symptoms. It is a good idea to eat foods that are rich in fibre as this will be easily digested by the body and it does not put too much pressure on the intestine and the digestive system. Similarly, drinking sufficient fluids will also help in the digestion process and common symptoms of diarrhoea and constipation will be relieved easily with this approach.
  • It is also required to exercise regularly as this keeps the digestive system strong even in old age and you will not face these symptoms regularly. The overall immune system will get a good boost with regular exercise and this is also a good way to reduce the stress levels in the body.
  • Remember that lack of sleep can affect the digestion process as it increases the production of acids in the body and you need to be careful about this issue. You should always make it a point to eat food a few hours before sleep as this will give your body enough time to digest the food.
  • In some cases, medications like fibre supplements and laxatives may be given to the patients depending on the severity of the symptoms. If the diarrhoea is too much, anti-diarrheal medication is given in the proper dose to bring the situation under control.

 

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Risk Factors of Irritable Bowel Syndrome:

Some of the factors that may increase the risk of Irritable Bowel Syndrome include –

  • Females - It has been observed that women are more prone to suffering from an Irritable Bowel Syndrome as compared to men. This prevalence of IBS in women may be subjected to change in the level of hormones during the menstrual cycle.
  • Age - The condition may affect people of every age, however teenagers are more prone to be affected by this condition.
  • Family History - Some studies have shown that if someone in the family had suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, there is a high chance that their progeny will suffer from the condition as well.
  • Stress - People who take a lot of stress usually develop Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
  • Food Sensitivities - Food items like dairy products, some high- sugar containing fruits, carbonated drinks and alcohol may upset digestion and cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
  • Bad Habits - Some people have a habit of eating while driving or working. These activities may not cause IBS but may definitely trigger it.
  • Medications - Irritable Bowel Syndrome may also develop in patients taking antibiotics, antidepressants and drugs which contain sorbitol.
  • Diseases - The condition may also develop in people suffering from food poisoning or traveler's diarrhea.

Other factors that may increase the risk of developing this disease include -

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes Mellitus

 

Diet for Irritable Bowel Syndrome:

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a kind of uncomfortable disorder that happens because of frequent changes in the bowel movements. Some of the major things that people face in the initial phase are constipation, abdominal pain, cramps and diarrhea that becomes a major health issue while doing work in day to day life.

It is advisable to go for doctor consultation for the treatment. However, while going through the medication one can also improve the symptoms of IBS by taking care of the diet and adding certain things in the meal.  Here is the list of common things that can be added to initially reduce the symptoms and to also lead a healthy life. 

1) High fiber diet

Fiber is good for health as it helps to add bulk to stool and aid the movement slowly. The average amount of fiber one should eat on a regular basis is 20 to 35 grams in a day. While most of the people think that it is not a big deal to add this amount of fiber in a diet, according to a research of National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, it is found that most of the people only eat around 5 to 14 grams of fiber on a daily basis.

Food items like a vegetable, fruits or whole grains that are rich in fiber help to prevent constipation and also makes the person fit. However, in case if one experiences bloating because of excessive fiber intake then it is advised to only eat soluble fiber that is found in vegetables and fruits instead of eating grains.

2) Gluten-free diet

Gluten is a nutritious protein which is found in grain products like pasta and bread. It not only reduces the symptoms of IBS but also helps to make a person physically fit. Gluten-free products are easily available in the supermarket or health food stores. The protein in the gluten helps to make a person healthy and it also helps to improve the bowel movements. It is advisable to avoid eating wheat, barley, and rye as it will help to check that if the gastrointestinal condition improves or not.

3) Elimination diet

One of the major reasons for IBS is primarily because of an unhealthy lifestyle. Though the medications can improve the health condition if the unhealthy lifestyle continues then there are chances that a person might face the symptoms of IBS. Here is the list of food items that one should avoid reducing the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

  • Avoid drinking coffee or tea. Green tea can be an alternative to fight the urge.
  • Don’t eat dark chocolates or else the symptoms might increase.
  • Insoluble fiber should also be avoided if a person is suffering from IBS.
  • Don’t eat nuts

These food items should be completely eliminated from the diet for at least 12 weeks to see the improvement or reduce the major symptoms of IBS.

4) Low-fat diet

People who usually eat food that have high fat are mostly the ones who face serious health condition like obesity. According to a research of Cleveland Clinic, people suffering from IBS should avoid fatty food items as it leads to major symptoms like diarrhea and constipation. It is advisable to eat low-fat food items as it helps to improve the uncomfortable bowel symptoms and is also good for the heart.

In case if a person is very fond of animal fats or fried food items, they should eat fruits, lean meat, grains, and low-fat food items.

5) Low FODMAP Diet

FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.” These are the kind of diet that is quite difficult to digest for the intestines. As it pulls out more bowels into the water so it is advisable to pull out more water into the bowel avoid high FODMAP diet as the person might experience bloating, gas or diarrhea. The patient suffering from the condition of IBS can see the results after avoiding it for around six to seven weeks.

It’s important to note that not all carbohydrates are FODMAPs. For the best outcome, you have to remove the right kinds of foods. Foods to avoid include:

All the carbohydrates are not FODMAPs so for the best results, one should avoid certain kind of food items. Here is the list of food that should be avoided:

  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Pistachios and cashews
  • Cereals, pasta, and wheat-based bread
  • Legumes
  • Lactose (Ice cream, cheese, milk, and yogurt)
  • Sweeteners
  • Fruits (peaches, pears, plums, watermelon, mangoes, nectarines, and apples)
  • Vegetables (Broccoli, Brussels, sprouts, cauliflower, onions, mushrooms, artichoke and asparagus)

Keep one thing in mind, though this diet eliminates some of the food, vegetables, and dairy products, it does not eliminate all the food items from the category. If a patient who is suffering from IBS drinks milk then the other option is to drink soy, rice milk or lactose-free milk.

It is advisable to consult a dietician before starting the diet as certain food items can help reduce symptoms of IBS. Have a check on how the body reacts to the diet and if in case any problem arises, talk to the doctor so that he/she can help with a better alternative of the diet.

 

Complications of Irritable Bowel Syndrome:

The complications of irritable bowel syndrome are not severe and most of them can be easily treated. There are no fatal complications of this condition and patients can easily get relief by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

In some cases, this can lead to dehydration due to diarrhoea and you need to drink lots of fluids to overcome this situation.

In other cases, it can also lead to malnutrition as the health of the intestine can get affected and the body will not be able to absorb nutrients in the best possible manner.

The most common problems arising out of this condition is that people suffering from IBS will find it difficult to lead a normal social life as they will become conscious about eating food outside and many foods can trigger the symptoms of this condition.

 

Myths about Irritable Bowel Syndrome:

Myth #1: IBS can lead to cancer

This is a myth and it does not lead to cancer or any other serious conditions in the future. You will only face minor discomfort when you have such symptoms on a regular basis.

 

Myth #2: IBS is a psychological problem

While it is true that stress plays a role in triggering some of the symptoms, IBS is not caused by stress and it is not a psychological problem.

 

Myth #3: IBS can be completely cured

It is not possible to completely cure this condition and only the symptoms can be controlled in the long run.

 

Myth #4: There is no way to diagnose IBS: 

There is a set of criteria known as Rome Criteria which is used for the diagnosis of IBS. Other tests may also be carried out in order to rule out other possible conditions with same symptoms.

 

Myth #5: IBS only causes Diarrhea: 

IBS may cause both diarrhea and constipation in the patients. In some cases the patient may have to suffer from diarrhea and constipation simultaneously. IBS can be classified into 3 types C- IBS (Constipation - predominant), D - IBS (Diarrhea predominant) and A - IBS (alternating diarrhea and constipation).

 

FAQs:

 

1) What food items should be avoided in case of Irritable Bowel syndrome?

Ans. There are some food items that may stimulate the intestine and cause diarrhea. The doctor may advise the patients to avoid such food items and maintain a record of food products that increase their symptoms. The food items that the doctor recommends to patients suffering from IBS includes products with caffeine, energy drinks, milk, cheese, ice cream, fatty foods, high sugar containing foods, artificial sweeteners, nuts, chocolates, and insoluble fibers.

 

2) What factors may serve as the reason behind the onset of this disease?

Ans. The factors that may lead to the onset of IBS include -

  • Sensitivity to certain food items
  • Genetics and inherited problems
  • Abdominal surgeries
  • Previous history of gastroenteritis
  • Removal of gallbladder
  • Some medications

 

3) What really happens in the case of IBS?

Ans. The walls of the intestines are lined with muscle layers that contract and expand at regular intervals. These contractions move and digest food in the intestines. The colon of a person suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome contracts in very violent and disorganized manner. These abnormal movements lead to a change in the pattern of bowel movement.

 

4) Can IBS affect the lifestyle of a person?

Ans. IBS can have a significant impact on the social, personal and professional life of a person. The disease may cause mild annoyance and persistent pain making it difficult for a person to concentrate on the work.

 

5) What is the conventional treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Ans. Commonly used medicines for the treatment of IBS include -

  • Laxatives: This acts as a stool softener
  • Tricyclic antidepressants: To decrease the level of stress
  • Anti-spasmodics: To reduce cramps and diarrhea

 

6) What are the things that trigger the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Ans.

  • Unhealthy diet: Food plays a major role in increasing the symptoms of IBS as an unhealthy diet causes food allergy. It is reported by the researchers that the people who suffer from IBS are having an unhealthy lifestyle and drink or eat food items that include dairy products, wheat, fruits, citrus, beans, milk, cabbage and aerated drinks.
  • Stress: People who suffer from IBS experience symptoms of IBS frequently when they have been going through stress. Though stress and hypertension might aggravate the symptoms however it is not one of the reasons that cause IBS.
  • Hormones: In case of hormones, women are the ones who face such issues and symptoms of IBS triggers when they are going through hormonal changes. It is being said that the symptoms and signs of IBS increase among women during their menstrual period.

 

7) What are the early signs of IBS?

Ans. Here is the list of early signs and symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

  • Cramp and pain: Abdominal pain is one of the early signs of IBS and also the key factor when the doctor diagnoses it.
  • Diarrhea: If someone faces frequent loose stool then it is a symptom of the diarrhea-predominant type which leads to the loose and watery stool.
  • Constipation: Constipation can be the early sign of IBS. If in case you face abdominal pain which improves after a bowel movement or if you feel the sensation of incomplete bowel movement even after you pass the stool then it is a sign of IBS.
  • Gas and bloating: The problem of gas and bloating have been reported by the patients suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. One can have a low FODMAPs diet to reduce bloating.

 

8) What are the different ways to reduce the symptoms of IBS?

Ans. IBS can be treated with the help of medication and drugs. However, these are some of the ways that can reduce the symptoms of IBS.

  • Avoid food items that trigger the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
  • Add high-fiber food items in the diet.
  • Drink water in regular interval throughout the day
  • Exercise or yoga helps to reduce the symptoms of IB.
  • Proper sleep for at least 8-9 hours is necessary to avoid symptoms of IBS.

 

9) How common IBS is among the people?

Ans. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common gastrointestinal disorder so there is no certain age for as it can affect both adult and children.

 

10) How can someone get to know that he/she is suffering from the problem of IBS?

Ans. If one faces the symptoms mentioned above then it is advisable to consult a doctor or a physician for proper medical examination and diagnosis.

 

11) Can bacteria in the GI tract affect Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Ans. Around trillions of bacteria are present in the GI tract that helps in the proper functioning of the intestine and some of them cause inflammation and infection. There are times when the balance of good and bad bacteria changes which affects the GI tract. It leads to some of the symptoms of IBS.

 

12) Is IBS a serious health issue?

Ans. The symptoms and impact of IBS certainly vary from person to person.  In some cases, IBS can be treated with proper medication and diet. However, in some cases IBS is long lasting and it also reduces the quality of life. Proper treatment and care are required to reduce the symptoms of IBS.

 

13) Can IBS be treated on its own?

Ans. Don’t think to treat IBS sitting at your home as it might lead to serious health issues. It is advisable to consult the doctor for the proper treatment and medication. Though the symptoms can be reduced by following a proper diet and lifestyle it can only be treated with proper medication.

 

14) What are some of the common causes of IBS?

Ans. Psychological factors like 

  • Stress
  • Anxiety or Depression.
  • Unhealthy diet or Lifestyle
  • Heredity
  • Genetics

 

15) What are the symptoms of IBS?

Ans. These are the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

  • Altered bowel habits/movements
  • The feeling of incomplete evacuation or stool
  • Abdominal distension, bloating or gas forming
  • Extra colonial symptoms
  • Urgency
  • Abdominal pain and cramps

 

16) How is Irritable Bowel Syndrome diagnosed?

Ans. Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be diagnosed by the doctor after checking the patient and understanding the symptoms that he/she has been facing for the past few weeks.

These are the common test that a doctor takes if the patient is diagnosed with IBS.

  • The doctor talks about the medical history of the patient and also about the lifestyle.
  • Then the physical examination is done.
  • Stool examination
  • Barium enema
  • Endoscopy

 

17) How IBS affects the lifestyle on a daily basis?

Ans. Irritable Bowel Syndrome can have a major effect on the individual’s professional, social and personal life as it annoying at times which leads to stress and depression.  At times IBS can also be painful and it can also affect a person’s quality of life.

 

18) Is IBS a life-threating condition?

Ans. No, it is not a life threating condition. However, the symptoms are painful but it is not a health issue that leads to a life-threatening condition. The person suffering from the condition can be treated with proper medication and by following a healthy lifestyle.

 

19) Does IBS interact with conventional medicines?

Ans. No, it can be taken together. However, it is advisable to inform about the medications that the patient is undergoing to the doctor.

 

20) Is it necessary to make a change in the diet plan?

Ans. Yes, in some cases IBS can be caused because of an unhealthy lifestyle. So it is advisable to consult a dietician and follow the proper diet to reduce the symptoms of IBS.

 

21) How long is the treatment of IBS?

Ans. It depends on the severity of the gastric problems in the body. Some of the patients have been treated in around one to two years. 

 

22) What are the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Ans. These are some of the major symptoms of IBS:

  • Constipation
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Stomach pain and cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Uncontrollable urgency and facing difficult while passing the stool
  • White or clear mucus with the stool
  • Feeling tired throughout the day
  • Nausea
  • Backache while sleeping
  • Stress or anxiety

 

23) When someone should get themselves checked on urgent basis for IBS?

Ans. These are some of the cases when one should go for an immediate appointment with the doctor.

  • Sudden loss of weight
  • Bleeding from the bottom or bloody diarrhoea
  • Swelling or a hard lump in the body
  • Breathing problem or anxiety

 

Conclusion

As you can notice, this condition is not very serious and millions of people suffer from such problems. Even though there is no cure to this problem, it is possible to control the symptoms by eating the right foods. Always get in touch with your doctor and follow their suggestions with regards to avoiding certain foods that trigger these symptoms in your body. In this way, you can still lead a comfortable life with this condition.

 

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Last updated on : 27-12-2018
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