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Irritable Bowel

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common problems affecting Americans. In fact, about 20 to 30 percent of US adults suffer from some form of digestive condition. Bowel irritability occurs more often in women than in men, and appears before age thirty-five in about half of those affected.

Symptoms of IBS

Symptoms of IBS vary from person to person. Almost all sufferers of IBS experience abdominal pain of varying severity accompanied by bloating and discomfort. Bowel function is also generally affected in one way or another. Some individuals develop constipation accompanied by straining and cramping. Other people with an irritable bowel experience diarrhea which can sometimes be quite urgent or even uncontrollable.

Some people with IBS experience alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea. Mucous in the stool and large amounts of gas are not uncommon. Symptoms of IBS often come and go. Someone with this condition may live symptom-free for weeks or even months only to have them suddenly return.

Getting to the Root of IBS

IBS is known by many names (such as spastic colon, nervous stomach, mucous colitis, irritable bowel, or spastic colitis) and has become something of a catchall phrase for situation in which the physician does not have a definitive prognosis for a digestive disorder. At any rate, IBS is a form of functional bowel disease, meaning the function rather than the structure of the bowel is affected.

For people with IBS, the movement of the intestines, intestinal nerve sensitivity, and brain control of various bowel functions may become impaired. Diagnostic tests do not reveal any abnormalities or damage and are run mainly to rule out other diseases.

IBS is a complex disorder most likely resulting from a disturbance in the interaction between the intestines, brain, and nervous system. If you think you may have IBS, your best approach is to develop a prompt, all-natural strategy for managing your symptoms. Try to avoid taking medications as many of them actually aggravate an already irritable bowel. Instead, focus on diet. Many times, a specific food can trigger an attack and you must learn to avoid anything to which you are especially sensitive or allergic.

What Causes IBS?

While the exact cause of IBS is unknown, several prominent theories have become generally accepted. Some physicians believe IBS sufferers have a colon that is overly sensitive and reacts badly to certain foods and stress. The immune system may also play a role if it responds too aggressively to the perceived threat of unhealthful food.

Irritable bowel may result from abnormal motility (movement) in the colon. This anomaly can cause spasms or even a complete temporary loss of function. Faulty motility may affect the epithelium (lining of the colon) which controls how much fluid is absorbed from bowel movements.

While the epithelium usually works fine in people with IBS, if the contents of the colon are moved along too quickly, it will not be able to absorb enough fluid. This haste results in watery diarrhea. On the other hand, if the contents of the colon are moved too slowly, too much fluid will be absorbed and constipation may occur.

Recent research has also shown that serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, is linked to GI functioning. Interestingly, only five percent of a person’s serotonin is located in the brain. The other 95 percent is located in the GI tract. Cells in the inner lining of the bowel transport serotonin out of the GI tract. In people with IBS, however, diminished receptor activity has been detected and this may result in abnormal levels of serotonin. People with Irritable Bowel Syndrome often suffer from depression and anxiety and this leads to a worsening of the symptoms.

Sometimes, even a bacterial infection can cause irritable bowel. For example, you can develop post-infectious IBS after a case of gastroenteritis.

How Can You Manage the Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Learn Your Trigger Foods

There is no cure for IBS. Understanding what triggers your symptoms, however, can help you manage your symptoms effectively. Certain foods (while not causing Irritable Bowl Syndrome) may prompt an attack. These trigger foods can include items containing fat or caffeine as both can cause intestinal contractions and cramps.

Alcohol and chocolate should also be avoided if you suffer with an irritable bowel, along with any gas producing foods. Broccoli, cabbage, and beans are notorious for producing more gas in the body. Dairy products especially may irritate the colon in people with lactose intolerance.

Keep a Food Diary

A good way to help you figure out if foods are triggering your symptoms is to keep a food diary. Record what you eat and how you feel after each meal. Pretty soon, you will probably see a pattern emerge and you’ll be able to eliminate the foods that cause you discomfort.

Reduce Stress in Your Life

Stress is another trigger for symptoms in people with IBS. Learning how to truly relax is an important habit for everyone to develop, but it can be especially beneficial for reducing symptoms of irritable bowel. You can enjoy a wide variety of activities that are great for relieving stress. Meditation and relaxation techniques will certainly help and they provide other health benefits as well.

Exercise More Often

If sitting isn’t your thing, yoga is a wonderful way to not only reduce stress but also to increase strength, flexibility, and focus. Almost any kind of exercise will help alleviate stress, so find out what works for you. Reducing your IBS symptoms may surprise you when you discover the dancer, skater, martial artist, or swimmer within.

If you have been diagnosed with IBS, don’t worry or let your imagination run wild. Irritable Bowel Syndrome doesn’t shorten the lifespan, permanently damage the bowel, or cause you to develop serious diseases like cancer. That fact alone should help you relax and begin your journey to feeling better by improving your routines for diet, exercise, rest, and reducing stress.

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