What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

April 11, 2022

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a group of symptoms that occur together, including repeated pain in the abdomen and changes in your bowel movements, like diarrhoea, constipation, or both. With IBS, these symptoms can occur without any visible signs of damage or disease in the digestive tract. (1)

IBS also leads to losing control over bowel movements or increased bowel movements. (2)

IBS is also known as spastic colon, irritable colon, mucous colitis, and spastic colitis.

What are the signs and symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

One of the most common symptoms of IBS is abdominal pain or general discomfort in the stomach. People with IBS may experience cramps in the stomach after they eat.

Other symptoms of IBS include :

  • Chronic pain in the stomach
  • Gas, especially after eating foods like cabbage, beans or milk products
  • Bloating or a belly that sticks out
  • Diarrhoea (loose or watery stool)
  • Mucus in stool
  • Uncontrollable bowel movements.
  • Constipation – You may have IBS-related constipation if you need to strain to pass stool, have less than four bowel movements per week, or pass lumpy and dry stool.
  • Changes in frequency of bowel movement. 
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • tiredness
  • Bleeding from the rectal region
  • Sudden and inexplicable weight loss (2,3,4)

How Do You Develop IBS?

IBS can develop suddenly due to several triggering factors like prolonged consumption of unhealthy foods and abnormal eating patterns. Emotional stress can also cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome: research suggests that IBS is the gut’s response to stress and anxiety. This is another reason to focus on one’s gut health and eliminate the root cause of a majority of diseases.

Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The exact cause of IBS remains unknown, but it can be a result of the combination of the following factors : 

• Dysmotility: Problems in the functioning of your Gastrointestinal (GI) muscles which creates difficulty in moving food through the GI tract

•Visceral Hypersensitivity: When the nerves in the GI tract are hypersensitive and more prone to damage

•Brain-gut Dysfunction: Miscommunication between the nerves in the brain and the gut (5)

Who is At Risk for IBS?

It is important to note that while the exact causes of IBS have not yet been narrowed down, women are more susceptible to this problem than men. Also, adults below fifty years of age are more likely to suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. People who have a family history of Irritable Bowel Syndrome are at a higher risk of suffering from IBS-Diarrhoea. The problem makes an individual's colon weaker and more sensitive than a normal colon. Due to this sensitivity, it reacts adversely to things like certain food items, bacteria and, at times, stress. (2)

Can Acid Reflux Cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

As many as 2 out of 3 people with IBS also have symptoms of Acid Reflux. A study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology looked at data on more than 6,000 people and found that about 63 percent of those diagnosed with IBS had acid reflux symptoms too. (7)

Acid reflux and IBS both impact segments of the digestive tract, and IBS can often occur as a consequence of reflux. 

Sometimes IBS and acid reflux are triggered by the same underlying digestive dysfunction. For example, visceral hypersensitivity (extreme sensitivity of internal organs) can trigger motility dysfunction (abnormal intestinal contractions) of the upper and/or lower GI tract.

Sometimes, IBS can also be a full-blown form of acid reflux. (8)

It is, therefore, advisable to avoid foods that may agitate the digestive tract altogether.

How To Calm Irritable Bowel Syndrome At Home*

In case of severe symptoms like bleeding, fever and severe abdominal pain, it is always advisable to see a trusted physician. Keeping that in mind, following are some of the changes people with IBS can make in their daily lives to facilitate the treatment of IBS at home :

•Foods to avoid while having IBS include Excess consumption of alcohol, caffeine, carbonated beverages, and dairy, which can trigger IBS. It is best to remove these foods from our diet or at least limit their consumption to help the recovery process, as they stimulate the intestines.

Avoiding fried foods and extremely fatty, oily and spicy foods can provide great relief to the gut and the GI tract

•Include high fibre foods in your diet in the form of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and some nuts. Eating fibre supplements(with proper consultation) can also improve gut health significantly

•Staying hydrated by drinking at least 8 large glasses of water daily helps give relief to the gastrointestinal tract, thus providing relief to the irritable bowels.

•Since Lactose Intolerance is more common in people with IBS, it is best to avoid milk products. You can get your calcium from foods like broccoli, salmon or other supplements recommended by a qualified and trusted source. Normal milk can be replaced with coconut milk.

•Trying a low carb diet and including high fibre foods like eggplants, green beans, cucumber, bell peppers, carrots, lettuce, zucchinis, kiwi, pineapple and oranges in your diet can relieve IBS symptoms to a great extent.

•Taking probiotics is extremely beneficial for gut health and can help treat IBS significantly. Probiotics even improve heart health, as a bonus.

•Getting regular physical exercise and increasing physical activity can also help fix Irritable Bowel Syndrome

•Irritable Bowel Syndrome Diet: To stop diarrhoea caused by IBS, eating foods with low FODMAP is highly recommended. FODMAP stands for Fermentable foods, Oligosaccharides (onions, garlic), Disaccharides (lactose-rich foods), Monosaccharides (fructose from certain fruits like apple juices, fermented and dried fruits), and Polyols (sugar alcohols commonly found in sweeteners). Following a low FODMAP diet and cutting out these foods removes irritants from the digestive tract and gives it a temporary rest, which allows it to function better in the long run. A low FODMAP diet also helps include easily digestible foods in one’s diet. As a result, the gut gets a chance to repair itself and the intestinal lining, in turn, restores a healthy balance of gut flora. (6)

•The best diet to alleviate IBS diarrhoea also includes rice, bananas, and whole grain foods, which will help solidify the stool. 

•Replacing high fructose and sugary products with dark chocolate, organic dates and honey is also a healthy way to care for your gut. (3,5,6)

In addition to all the remedies mentioned above, stress management is a vital tool to deal with IBS. As stated before, extreme levels of stress and anxiety can trigger IBS. It is important to manage your stress levels by indulging in activities that make you happy, going to therapy, taking frequent breaks from a high pressure lifestyle, practicing yoga or meditating, even if it is for a few minutes a day.

*Not all remedies work the same way for everyone or may work for some time but in order to treat the issue completely one must first find out the reason for the problem and then work on eliminating it. This will, in turn, help them treat the health issue once and for all

References –

Sukanya Krishnan

Sukanya is a lawyer by education and has also completed CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) from Cambridge University, conducted by the British Council. She has experience in content writing and is currently exploring the field further through freelance projects.

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