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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder of the intestines that affects as many as one in five Americans. IBS is not a disease, but a functional disorder, meaning the bowel does not function correctly. In most cases, IBS can often be treated effectively and does not cause inflammation or permanent damage to the bowel tissue like other intestinal disorders.

Doctors are not completely sure of the cause of IBS. It is believed that the nerves and muscles in the bowels of certain people are extra-sensitive and contract or stretch too much, causing cramping or pain. Food may be forced too quickly through the intestines because of these sensitive muscles. It is believed that the sensitive muscles react to certain stimulants which may include certain foods, stress or other illnesses and medications. IBS occurs most frequently in females under the age of 35. The disorder may also be hereditary.

The main symptoms of IBS include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Feeling bloated
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea or constipation

These common symptoms can be the cause of other conditions, and many people experience mild variations of these symptoms on a regular basis. It is important to talk to your doctor to determine if your symptoms are a result of irritable bowel syndrome or a more serious condition.

Since there is no definitive characteristic of IBS, a complete medical history and physical exam are usually done to diagnose the condition. Doctors developed the Rome II Criteria, a set of standards that are usually successful in diagnosing IBS. These criteria include:

  • Abdominal pain and discomfort for at least 12 weeks
  • Change in the frequency or consistency of stool
  • Feeling that you can’t empty your bowels properly
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Bloating

If symptoms remain the same and have been present for a long period of time, there is a high chance of IBS. However, if symptoms have a recent onset and continually worsen, simpler tests for other disorders may be performed first. Additional tests may be performed to confirm a diagnosis of IBS. These tests include a lower gastrointestinal series, which is an X-ray of the large intestine used with barium dye to highlight any abnormalities in the intestines, and a colonoscopy, which is a thin tube with a camera inserted into the colon to examine the area. Blood tests and lactose intolerance tests may also be administered to perhaps ascribe your symptoms to another disorder.

Once IBS is diagnosed, it can usually be treated with simple changes. Since the cause of IBS is unknown and there is no cure, treatment usually focuses on relieving symptoms. Mild symptoms can often be treated just by managing stress and making changes to your diet. Different foods act as triggers for different people, but it is recommended to cut back on fatty foods, milk products, chocolate, alcohol and caffeine. Symptoms can be treated with medication such as laxatives, antispasmodics, fiber supplements and antidepressants.

Dealing with stress is one of the top ways to prevent symptoms of IBS. Regular exercise, counseling and deep breathing can all help keep stress at a minimum to reduce a flare-up of IBS. While IBS is a common condition that plagues many people either mildly or severe, it is important to talk to your doctor to determine the best treatment method for your symptoms.

To learn more about our treatments for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, please contact us online or call us at 856-673-3288.

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