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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) isn't something people talk about a lot. But if you have IBS, you aren't alone; it is quite common. IBS causes crampy pain, gas, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea. (Read about "Constipation" "Diarrhea") It isn't colitis, spastic colon or bowel disease. IBS does not cause an inflammation of the colon and does not lead to more serious conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD includes Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis) or colon cancer. (Read about "Crohn's" "Ulcerative Colitis" "Colorectal Cancer")
It is much easier to list the symptoms of IBS than give a cause. That's because the cause is unknown. Unfortunately, that also means there is no cure, according to the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA). IBS can be very uncomfortable, causing deep cramps in the lower abdomen. They sometimes come on unexpectedly and in awkward situations. IBS is often thought to have stress related triggers, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). (Read about "Stress") But NIDDK adds that research indicates that the colon muscle of people with IBS appears more sensitive and can begin to spasm after only mild stimulation. Some foods have also been shown to cause reactions. Foods such as chocolate, milk products or large amounts of alcohol are known offenders, says AGA. People with IBS are often encouraged to keep a diary of the foods they eat to try and identify triggers.
The colon is about 6 feet long and connects the small intestine with the rectum and the anus. It's the last place that digestion occurs. (Read about "Digestive System") Fluids and salts enter the body while material is in the colon. A few times a day, muscle contractions push matter back and forth in the colon and push it forward toward the rectum. Some of those contractions result in bowel movements.
IBS is diagnosed by eliminating other possibilities. Your doctor will take a medical history and examine you for other possibilities. Since IBS does not cause inflammation, looking at the colon can rule out more serious diseases. (Read about "Colonoscopy") One thing that NIDDK notes is that bleeding, fever, weight loss and persistent severe pain are NOT symptoms of IBS but can indicate more serious problems. If they accompany symptoms of IBS, you should see your doctor immediately. (Read about "Gastrointestinal Bleeding")
Diet and a healthy life style can go a long way to controlling the symptoms of IBS. AGA says that dietary fiber may lessen the symptoms. In addition, high-fiber diets keep the colon a little distended which can help keep spasms away. Changes in diet should always be discussed with your doctor. Once again, keeping a diary can help identify any foods that could cause a problem. Also, discuss with your doctor before starting to use any over-the-counter fiber supplements. (Read about "Fiber and Health")
If the problem is severe, there are some drugs that can be prescribed to relieve some of the symptoms. Lubiprostone has been approved for the treatment of IBS with constipation (IBS-C) in adult women aged 18 and over. Medications can cause side effects, so you should discuss your options with your doctor. (Read about "Medicine Safety") Counseling and stress modification programs can also be used to help alleviate the problems. Patients should not give up. Severe forms of IBS have been known to cause people to withdraw from normal activities. Working with your doctor it is possible to come up with a program to keep you happy and active.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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