Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is not a disease. It’s a common disorder that causes the large bowel, or colon, which stores stool, to function improperly. Although IBS can cause a great deal of discomfort and distress, it does not cause inflammation or changes in bowel tissue that can increase your risk of colon cancer.
Resources for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD)
- Diarrhea alternating with constipation
- Gas (flatulence)
- Passage of mucus during bowl movements
- Abnormal stool passage- straining, urgency, or feeling of incomplete bowl movement
- Abnormal stool frequency- greater than three bowel movements per day or less than three bowel movements per week
Researchers have yet to discover a specific cause, although some think a particularly sensitive and reactive colon is to blame.
When you eat, food passes from your throat to your stomach through your esophagus. In your stomach, the act of digestion begins. Here, your food is churned and broken down and then makes its way into your small intestine where essential nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream. The remaining content then empties into your large intestine, also called the bowel, or colon. As material moves through the various parts of your large intestine, water and salt are absorbed by the lining and the material is compacted into stool. Typically, stool is moved into the sigmoid colon once or twice a day, where pressure on the rectum stimulates the urge for a bowel movement. With IBS however, problems with the muscle contractions in the large intestine result in symptoms such as diarrhea and constipation.
Because there are usually no physical signs to definitively diagnose irritable bowel syndrome, diagnosis is often a process of elimination. To help in this process, researchers have developed diagnostic criteria, known as Rome criteria, for IBS and other functional gastrointestinal disorders. These are conditions in which the bowel appears normal, but doesn't function normally. According to these criteria, you must have certain signs and symptoms before a doctor diagnoses irritable bowel syndrome.
The most important symptom is abdominal pain and discomfort lasting at least 12 weeks, though the weeks don't have to occur consecutively
You also must have at least two of the following:
- A change in the frequency or consistency of your stool — for example, you may change from having one normal, formed stool every day to three or more loose stools daily, or you may have only one hard stool every few days
- Straining, urgency or a feeling that you can't empty your bowels completely
- Mucus in your stool
- Bloating or abdominal distension
Your doctor will likely assess how you fit these criteria, as well as whether you have any other signs or symptoms that might suggest another, more-serious condition. Some red flag signs and symptoms that might prompt your doctor to do additional testing include:
- New onset after age 50
- Weight loss
- Rectal bleeding
- Nausea or recurrent vomiting
- Abdominal pain, especially if it's not completely relieved by a bowel movement
- Diarrhea that is persistent or awakens you from sleep
If you have these red flag signs or symptoms, you'll need additional testing to further assess your condition. If you fit the IBS criteria and don't have any red flag signs or symptoms, your doctor may suggest a course of treatment without doing additional testing.
In most cases, you can successfully control mild signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome by making changes in your diet and lifestyle. However, if your problems are moderate or severe, you may need to do more.
Ways to Manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome:
- Eat small meals
- Increase your intake of high fiber foods
- Avoid fried or fatty foods
- Avoid beverages with caffeine (colas, coffee, tea)
- Avoid alcohol
- Avoid chocolate
- Avoid dairy products
- Avoid raw vegetables like beans, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli which can cause excessive gas
- Practice stress reducing techniques like yoga and meditation
- Don’t skip meals and eat at the same time each day to help regulate bowel function
- Drink 6-8 glasses of plain water daily
- Exercise regularly to help relieve stress and stimulate normal contractions of your intestines
- Avoid chewing gum or drinking through a straw which can lead to swallowing air and excessive gas
- Enteric Coated Peppermint Oil Capsules - Eliminate excess gas in the intestines and block the movement of calcium into muscle cells in the intestines to ease excessive muscle contraction
- Probiotics - “Friendly” bacteria that suppress the growth of potentially harmful, gas-producing bacteria to improve immune function, enhance the protective barrier of the digestive tract, and help produce vitamin K
- Fiber supplements- Natural plant fiber that helps control constipation by making stool soft and easier to pass