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Irritable Bowel Syndrome - The Basics and Causes

If you were to guess which condition health care practitioners treat most, you may guess heart disease, arthritis . . . even the common cold.


But would you ever suggest Irritable Bowel Syndrome? 


But the truth is that this is one of the most frequently heard complaints of these professionals.  Statistics on exactly how many individuals are affected vary.  The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders say that 

between 10 to 15 percent of the population is affected.  That equates to rough 30 to 45 million Americans.  The Mayo Clinic, in its web site, states that the figure is close to 20 percent of the population. Or nearly one in five American adults suffers with irritable bowel syndrome. 


While most find some form of relieve as the learn how to control the condition, there is still a small percentage of people who suffer daily with severe signs and symptoms of it.


The good new is that unlike some more serious intestinal health problems, like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, commonly referred to as IBS by many, doesn’t cause inflammation or changes in the bowel tissue.  Thankfully, the presence of IBS doesn’t increase your risk of colorectal cancer either.


For most people, controlling IBS is as simple as managing your diet, lifestyle and the stresses of your life.  While IBS is not caused by stress, the existence of stress in your routine can make it worse.


The bad news is that the exact cause of this disorder isn’t known.  The medical community does recognize that symptoms usually appear to result from some type of disruption among the gut, the brain and the nervous system.  This disruption then alters the regulation of bowel motor or sensory function.


The severity and impact IBS has on your life can range from a mild inconvenience to severe debilitation.  It has even been known to “control” many aspects of one’s emotional, social and professional life.


The occurrence of IBS symptoms many times is unpredictable.  Similarly, the symptoms sometimes appear quite contradictory.  You may experience diarrhea alternating with constipation.  These sudden and embarrassing symptoms can – and very often do – appear without any notice.  They are many times the cause for disruption not only in your personal activities, but also in your professional ones as well.  Not only does a severe case of IBS have a very real potential to damage your emotional well being, it also can in a very real sense limit your potential.


Just because IBS appears to be so common, doesn’t mean that there are many individuals receiving proper medical treatment.  The bowel and related subjects remain difficult topics to talk about – even to health care practitioners.  That means that many individuals suffer without seeking medical attention.  In fact, it takes, on average, an individual more than three years from the initial appearance of his symptoms to get diagnosed.  Not only that, but the average person must see three health care practitioners before he can even receive an accurate diagnosis of IBS.


IBS: Causes

While the medical community isn’t exactly sure the specific cause of IBS, they know enough about how the intestines work to provide educated guesses about what triggers the appearance of the symptoms.


To fully understand IBS, it’s good to know a little about the workings of the intestines. Layers of muscles line the walls of your intestines.  These muscles contract and relax as they move food from your stomach through to your intestinal tract and on to your rectum.


Under normal conditions, the muscles do all this in a very coordinated rhythm.  But if you suffer with IBS, the contractions may be stronger than normal and may last longer than is usually considered normal.  This means that the food is forced through your intestines more quickly than normal, which increases the potential for the creation of gas, bloating and diarrhea.  In other cases, the muscle contractions may be slower than usual.  Food, therefore, passes slowly through your intestines, causing your stools to become hard and dry.


IBS, according to some researchers, may be caused by the changes in the nerves that are actually in control of sensation or muscle contractions in the bowel.  Those individuals afflicted with IBS, therefore, may possess a heightened sensitivity to the stretching of the bowel.  This leads to the pain and bloating sensations.


Some also believe that IBS may be related to an individual’s hormonal changes.  They base this theory on the fact that women are nearly twice as likely to develop IBS as men. Not only that, but many women discover that their signs and symptoms are actually worse around or during their menstrual periods.


The mysterious aspect of IBS is that for some people, certain stimuli trigger its appearance.  For others, the occurrence of the same stimuli does nothing. Triggers for IBS vary widely from individual to individual as well.  Some are affected by a specific food, others by a medication and still others find their IBS is related to their state of emotions.


For many individuals chocolate, milk and alcohol may cause constipation or diarrhea. For others, eating certain fruits and vegetables trigger symptoms of IBS. Carbonated beverages are also another common trigger. 


As prevalent as these triggers are, the exact role of food in the appearance of IBS has yet to be studied in any great detail.


If you experience cramping or bloating after eating dairy products, food with caffeine or even sugar-free gum or candies, you shouldn’t automatically assume that you’re suffering from IBS.  The problem may very well be that you’re lactose intolerant.

Many people with IBS discover that getting stressed only makes their symptoms worse.  And it doesn’t seem that the stress level needs to be that great.  Sometimes it’s something as seemingly innocuous as just changing your routine that causes a flare-up of your IBS.


Yet for others, another health concern or illness, such as an acute episode of infectious diarrhea, called gastroenteritis, can also prompt a bout of IBS.




Note: Some statements in this article may not be approved by the FDA. This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as professional medical advice.



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