What is IBS? (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

Hello, in this HealthSketch we’re going to talk about Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, a very common long-term condition that affects the digestive system. It is slightly more common in women than men, and usually starts in early adulthood, but it can occur at any age. The main symptoms are: Tummy pain or cramp, which might ease after going to the toilet Bloating, when the tummy feels uncomfortably full and swollen, Diarrhea or constipation, with some people alternating between both These symptoms will come and go from time to time, with some days being better and other days being worse. But what exactly causes these symptoms in the first place? IBS affects the gut, and more specifically the large bowel or colon. First, let’s look at how the digestive system works. When you eat food, it passes through your digestive tract, including your stomach and small bowel, before it reaches the large bowel. During this journey, food is being broken down and absorbed into the body. The keep the food moving through the system, the wall of the bowel squeezes in on itself in a rhythmic way, slowly pushing its contents through. In IBS, the gut wall becomes more sensitive and excitable. The contractions sometimes occur too quickly, causing diarrhea, or they occur too slowly, causing constipation. We do not know exactly what causes IBS, but a number of possible triggers have been identified, including stress and emotion, infections such as gastroenteritis, and certain medications. These are thought to affect the way the nervous system interacts with the gut Doctors are able to diagnose IBS based on the symptoms, and after other types of bowel disease have been ruled out through blood tests and stool tests. These other bowel conditions include inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease and bowel cancer. If you experience different symptoms such as weight loss, fever, and blood in the stools, it is very important to see a doctor to rule out these more serious bowel conditions. So how is IBS treated? There is no single treatment that works for everyone. But there are lots of things you can try, such as finding ways to relax and reduce stress levels, and doing regular exercise. By keeping a symptom diary, you can see which foods or activities seem to bring on symptoms so they can be avoided. Certain food groups, which form the acronym FODMAPs, are common triggers for IBS symptoms. Therefore a low FODMAP diet can help, though you should speak to a dietician or doctor before making major changes to your diet. A range of over-the-counter medications can also help with symptoms, including those that reduce bowel spasm, and drugs to help relieve constipation or diarrhea symptoms. If these simple medicines and steps aren’t helping, doctors might also suggest other options such as antidepressants and psychological therapies, particularly if stress and anxiety is an issue. There is no single fix for IBS, and it is often a lifelong condition, though symptoms will tend to come and go, and you may have long spells with only mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all. When flare-ups do happen, they can impact on daily life, which can be frustrating. Patient support groups are available to connect with others who are going through similar experiences. Relaxation techniques, dietary changes and medications can all help to control symptoms, though it may take some time to figure out what works best for you. In this HealthSketch, we’ve talked about Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a very common condition caused by a sensitive gut wall. We’ve described the symptoms it causes, possible triggers, how it is diagnosed, and ways that it can be managed. HealthSketch. Health for all to see.

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