Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder involving the large intestine or the colon. It is a chronic condition that causes a lot of discomfort and pain but does not increase the risk of colorectal cancer. It is, thankfully, not considered life-threatening.
Common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, constipation, mucus in stool and diarrhea. These symptoms mimic those of other abdominal conditions and vary widely in those affected.
The causes of irritable bowel syndrome are not clearly known but it is understood that a wide variety of factors play a role in bringing about the condition. When you eat, the intestinal muscles contract and relax rhythmically and this helps in the easy passage of food. But in those with IBS the contractions are longer and stronger, causing bloating and diarrhea. Alternatively the contractions may be weak resulting in the slow passage of food and constipation. Common triggers of IBS include certain foods, mental stress and irregular hormones, the latter being more common in women. Some illnesses, like gastroenteritis, can also cause irritable bowel syndrome.
There are many who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome but very few who actually seek medical help for it. IBS may not be serious but it is always better to rule out other life-threatening conditions such as colon or colorectal cancer. In case you have abdominal pain, rectal bleeding or weight loss or, if there’s a persistent change in your bowel habits, please consult a doctor.
IBS is a chronic condition needing long term management. Although symptoms may recur throughout life, many individuals can control the condition through lifestyle management, dietary changes and stress control. However, others with more severe symptoms need medications. Diarrhea may be controlled through anti-diarrheal medications. In case of constipation, fiber supplements or laxatives may be considered. Anti-spasmodic medications may be necessary in case of painful spasms of the bowel. Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome is centered on relieving symptoms and enabling the patient to lead a normal life.
Lifestyle management of IBS involves regular exercises, drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding foods that trigger IBS such as gluten, certain carbohydrates, or high-gas foods and getting enough sleep.
Very often IBS interferes with a person’s ability to lead a full life and this can even lead to depression among those with the condition. In these cases, meeting a psychiatric consultant, taking anti depressant medications and counseling are very important and can even be life-saving.
Yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, massages or practicing mindfulness can calm the patient and bring about stress- relief. Any relaxing activity such as listening to music or engaging in something creative can help the patient cope well with the condition. Many have found solace by walking away from the oft-beaten path and discovering their own ways to manage the condition. Using natural herbs such as peppermint, taking probiotics with ‘good bacteria’ have all helped various people in managing the condition – and that is to just name a few!