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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS is a functional disorder of the gastrointestinal tract (intestines) whereby the sufferer experiences various degrees of abdominal pain and change in bowel motion habits. The term ‘functional’ refers to the fact that there are no abnormalities found on either various types of scans or endoscopy.

There is a wide spectrum in the symptoms of IBS. In addition, as many of these symptoms are fairly vague and non-specific, many patients with IBS may have been labelled as ‘tummy colic’ or ‘non-specific pain’ or even as ‘psychological pain’.

Generally, the symptoms of IBS can be divided into two categories, namely that of abdominal pain and a change in motion habits and stool consistency.

Abdominal Pain

The symptoms of abdominal pain can range from the milder symptoms such as occasional abdominal discomfort to intermediate symptoms such as abdominal bloatedness with a visible increase in tummy size to severe symptoms such as bad abdominal cramps that affect work and lifestyle. The abdominal pain is often related to the passing of motion, whereby some suffers experience pain relief after passing motion while others have increased pain after motion. Abdominal bloatedness is often associated with belching or passing wind from the bottom.

Change in Motion Habits and Stool Consistency

The symptoms of change in motion habits and stool consistency can, in turn, be subdivided into sufferers with diarrhoea symptoms or constipation symptoms. Sufferers with diarrhoea may experience multiple episodes of loose bowel movements, usually of small amounts each time. This contrasts with the diarrhoea associated with food poisoning whereby there are large amounts of stools. Suffers with constipation will often pass small, hard, and often pellet-like stools. Also, they may pass motion only once every few days to once a week. Common to both subgroups are the symptoms of passing mucus (clear discharge) with stools and the sensation of incomplete passing of motion and a burning sensation in the bottom after passing of motion.

The proposed main causes of IBS include abnormal movements and contractions of the gastrointestinal tract, increased sensitivity to pain and gaseous distension, silent inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, changes in the composition of gut bacteria, dietary factors such as sensitivity to certain food groups, and psychological factors.

Research has identified various potential causes of IBS. One proposed factor is abnormal contractions and movements of the gastrointestinal tract, which can be prolonged and frequent in individuals with IBS. Another factor is changes in gut bacteria composition, which can result from factors such as food poisoning, and may be improved with probiotic supplements. Psychological factors, such as high levels of stress, anxiety, or depression, may also contribute to IBS symptoms, as certain hormones secreted during these states can impact the gastrointestinal tract.

IBS treatment involves lifestyle changes and medication, which is tailored to the individual patient due to the variable underlying causes and symptoms of the condition. Surgical intervention is not necessary for IBS. Stress reduction measures and avoiding certain foods, such as high FODMAP, lactose, and gluten-containing foods, can also be helpful. Medical treatment differs for constipation and diarrhea subtypes, with laxatives and stool softeners used for constipation, and anti-diarrheal medication for diarrhea. However, finding the right combination of medications may require trial-and-error.