IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. IBS is a common diagnostic term for disorders of the bowel. Symptoms appear in various forms, which is why this condition is so difficult to treat. In this article, we are going to look at the symptoms, possible causes, diagnostic measures, and treatment options for this condition more closely.
What Is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome is not considered a disease of the bowel per se. The large intestine, also known as the colon, is most affected by irritable bowel. According to a research article, it is estimated that 1 in 6 people in the United States suffers from IBS. Many Naturopathic and Functional Medicine doctors are now looking just as closely at the small intestines as being a source of irritable bowel symptoms.
Quickcare or ER?
Red flags that might have you rushing to the ER include:
- Severe abdominal pain.
- More than six bowel movements a day.
- A high fever.
- Severe fatigue.
- A rapid heart rate (a sign of dehydration).
What will your doctor ask?
Your doctor will want to know your symptoms. Remember, symptom is your description of your condition to your doctor. It is your story.
IBS symptoms vary from person to person. The most common symptoms are abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation. You may also experience bloating, gas, nausea, dehydration, body aches, headache, fatigue, anxiety, racing heart, insomnia, and pain radiating into your back.
What Types of IBS Are There?
There are 3 categories of irritable bowel syndrome:
IBS-D, which is Irritable Bowel with Diarrhea; IBS-C, which is the syndrome with Constipation; and Alternating IBS where you may experience both diarrhea and constipation.
IBS-D generally presents with cramping followed by watery diarrhea. Often the cramps will persist even after a bowel movement. This presentation of symptoms is sometimes accompanied by dehydration and fatigue. Furthermore, anxiety may set in due to the fear of not being able to get to the bathroom quickly enough. What’s more, people with this form are often afraid to leave their homes.
IBS-C presents with bloating, gas, and constipation. Patients find relief only by having a bowel movement. However, this can be painful because the stool consistency is often hard and shaped more like a ball than like the intestine. A person with constipation may never feel like she has completely emptied her bowels. Some people experiencing constipation develop bleeding hemorrhoids or anal fissures from the pressure placed on the lower portion of the descending colon.
Alternating diarrhea and constipation are fairly common in people with irritable bowels. An episode of watery diarrhea may be followed by a couple of days of no bowel movements. Then, the cycle repeats itself. This can be debilitating because there doesn’t seem to be a predictable pattern. As a result, planning daily routines becomes stressful. A person with alternating patterns is likely to experience the widest range of symptoms.
What are the Causes of IBS?
The specific causes of the condition are not clearly defined by Western Medicine. Specialists generally assume that a person with IBS simply has a sensitive gut or impaired peristalsis. Peristalsis is the wavelike muscle contractions your bowels engage in to promote motility. Sensitive gut triggers include food allergies, stress, hormonal changes, medications, or an infection. Let’s look at each one of these factors.
Food allergies and sensitivities may increase or slow the motility of the bowels. Lactose, found in dairy products, is a sugar that is indigestible for some people. This will generally result in diarrhea and gas. Gluten in certain grains is problematic for some. Moreover, highly processed foods will convert to sugar in the intestines causing a fermentation effect. Fried and fatty foods will often result in lubricating the bowels, in which case digestion does not occur.
Stress is also one of the leading causes of many disorders and diseases. When stress occurs, we may produce too much of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol can impede digestion.
Hormonal changes can also impede digestion, especially in women. As women age, estrogen levels decrease and cortisol levels increase. This can result in the production of too little stomach acid. Stomach acid is necessary to break down foods before they move into the intestines.
Medications are one of the leading contributors to developing an IBS condition. Antibiotics can cause bacterial overgrowth in both the small and large intestines. Antibiotics kill off both good and bad bacteria, allowing for the overgrowth of opportunistic or pathogenic bacteria, yeast, and fungus in our guts. This can contribute to what is known as a leaky gut, whereby microscopic holes occur in the intestines allowing for food particles to get into our bloodstream and other parts of our bodies.
Infections can wreak havoc on our digestion. C-Difficile is an infection that often occurs following a round of antibiotics. It results in chronic diarrhea. Parasitic infections from food poisoning can cause indefinite damage if undiagnosed and left untreated, especially in persons with compromised immune systems. It is not uncommon to develop IBS after traveler’s diarrhea. Up to 14% of persons with traveler’s diarrhea develop new IBS.
Diagnosis of IBS begins with a conversation between patient and doctor. It may be obvious that IBS is present just from discussing symptoms. Your doctor may want to do scans, scopes, and blood test to rule out a more serious condition or an Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
Irritable bowel syndrome tests often include an IgG antibody blood test for food allergies and sensitivities, a hydrogen breath test for Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth or SIBO, and stool cultures to check for parasites and yeast.
What Is the Treatment for IBS?
Here are some of the IBS treatment options that you will discuss with your doctor for your particular symptoms:
- Rifaximin for the treatment of SIBO.
- Anti-fungal medications for yeast.
- Digestive enzymes and probiotics.
- Fiber supplements or increasing dietary fiber.
- Adopting an IBS diet that eliminates allergens and irritants, such as caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and fried foods. A popular diet for irritable bowel syndrome is the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet.
- Reducing stress by implementing an exercise regimen and meditating.
- Addressing inflammation with appropriate vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements.
How Long Will You Have IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome is considered a syndrome and not a treatable disease. Specialists have yet to find a cure. Nonetheless, some medications may help. Patient must consider diet and lifestyle changes.
While IBS may not be a life-threatening condition, it is certainly uncomfortable and can impact your work and social life. However, you can manage the symptoms with some thoughtful planning by you and your doctor. It is always suggested that you seek proper medical attention to rule out the possibility of a more serious condition or disease.