What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is a common, long-term condition of the digestive system. People who have signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome may experience them for life. Among the parts of the digestive system, the colon and the small intestine are the most affected. The good news is, Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not life-threatening.
The Causes and Risk Factors of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Medical experts are still not sure why people develop IBS. It may be associated with genes or a medical history of infection and trauma. According to studies, the signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome are most prevalent in younger people (20 to 30 years old).
The other risk factors of IBS include:
- Gender. Women are more at risk to develop the signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome than men.
- Lifestyle. You are more likely to experience IBS if you smoke.
- Stress. Studies show that increased psychological stress also increases the possibility of experiencing signs of IBS.
- Family history. If someone in your family has IBS, then there is a chance that you may have it, too.
The Signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
The signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome may vary, but the most common include the following:
- Abdominal pain, which includes cramping due to muscle contraction. If you have IBS, then your pain may be relieved by passing a bowel movement.
- Feeling bloated or gassy
- Alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea
- Mucus or phlegm-like substance in the stool
Please note that people with signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome have no “schedule” in experiencing them. Sometimes, the symptoms are mild; sometimes, they are severe. There are even times when they don’t experience them at all. Most reports say that the signs of IBS are triggered by something they ate or drank.
When to See a Doctor
Although the signs and symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome are not life-threatening, you must still seek medical attention if you experience the following:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Swelling in your abdomen
- Presence of a lump in your stomach
- Signs of anemia
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Incontinence, which is the lack of control over urination and passing of stool
- Difficulty in urinating or in emptying the bladder
- Bleeding in the rectum
- Unexplained vomiting
- Persistent abdominal pain that even passing of stool cannot relieve
These signs may mean that you have another condition that should be medically addressed.
If symptoms are left unmanaged, a person who has Irritable Bowel Syndrome may experience the following complications:
- Mood disorders. Depression and anxiety may occur because of digestive issues.
- Poor quality of life. Research studies indicate that people who have signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome are more likely to miss out on work than those who do not.
Once you have identified the signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, you may consult your doctor for further diagnosis. However, there is no definitive diagnostic test for IBS. Your attending physician will most likely take a look into your medical history. They will also take note of the signs and symptoms you have been experiencing.
If you experience abdominal pain, your doctor will likely ask the following questions:
- Is the pain related to your bowel movement? Does your pain improve or worsen with the passage of stool?
- Have you noticed a change in how frequently you pass a stool?
- Are there changes in the way your stool looks?
Should you answer be a yes to at least two questions, the doctor will additionally ask you:
- Have you experienced these symptoms at least once a week for the past 3 months?
- Since when have you been experiencing these? Was the first symptom 6 months ago?
Of course, to rule out other conditions, the doctor may also request additional blood tests and stool tests for you.
Treatment and Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Treating and managing the signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome may be a long process, but you can do it.
The first step is to manage your diet. The doctor will advise you to eat regularly. You must eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and small snacks in between. You must not miss meals or eat very late in the evening. Additionally, take your time when eating and chew your food well.
The doctor will also ask you to be mindful of your food intake. What kinds of food trigger your IBS symptoms? Avoid them if you are able
In general, you must:
- Eat foods that are rich in fiber, like fruits and vegetables
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Do regular exercise
- Get enough rest and sleep
- Reduce stress as much as possible as it can worsen the signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Depending on your condition, the doctor may also prescribe medications that include anti-diarrheal drugs or laxatives. At times, the physician will also give you anti-spasmodic drugs. Anti-spasmodic drugs are medications that regulate muscle contraction. As a result, they reduce the level of abdominal pain.
The signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome may be hard to spot at first. However, as you continue to experience them, it will be easier for you to know when to consult a doctor. Once diagnosed, remember that Irritable Bowel Syndrome is manageable. You may just need to make a few lifestyle and dietary changes and follow the advice of your physician.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.