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Description of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

irritable bowel syndrome, IBS, irritable bowel symptoms, causes of irritable bowel

Irritable bowel syndrome is a common problem that is characterized by ongoing bloating, abdominal discomfort, gas, diarrhea, or constipation. It is estimated that one in five persons live with irritable bowel syndrome or IBS on a daily basis. For many, the condition is mild and controlled by avoiding certain foods or drinks. On the other hand, a large percentage of IBS sufferers experience chronic symptoms which interfere with daily activities. Severe symptoms may include painful stomach cramps, pelvic pain, or lower back pain. Extreme abdominal bloating may also cause discomfort.

Because the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome resemble the signs of many other gastrointestinal and stomach conditions, a doctor's diagnosis is necessary. Fortunately, IBS does not lead to other serious conditions such as colon cancer or ulcerative colitis.

Signs and Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Symptoms vary from person-to-person. Moreover, it is common for symptoms to disappear for months or years, and then resurface. The majority of IBS sufferers complain of the following conditions:

• Abdominal Pain
• Abdominal Bloating
• Excessive Intestinal Gas or Flatulence
• Diarrhea
• Constipation
• Mucus in stool

Although the symptoms of IBS vary, this condition rarely causes bloody stools. Furthermore, any traces of blood in the stool should be immediately reported to a doctor. This could be an initial sign of a more serious, potentially life-threatening illness.

Risk Factors

Anyone can develop irritable bowel syndrome. However, the condition is more present in women, and usually begins to surface in the early twenties. Furthermore, the condition tends to worsen during a woman's menstrual cycle. In some instances, multiple family members suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, indicating a possible genetic factor.

Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is unknown. The intestines include muscles that tighten and loosen as food travels from the stomach to the intestines and rectum. If the intestines are working properly, the muscles will contract and relax with a normal rhythm. On the other hand, individuals with irritable bowel syndrome may experience stronger or sudden contractions which lead to diarrhea. On the other end of the spectrum, if the muscles contract too slowly, food is unable to pass through the rectum, which causes constipation. Symptoms associated with constipation include dry stools, abdominal bloating, gas, and stomach cramps.

Foods that Cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Although foods do not cause IBS, certain foods may trigger symptoms. For example, fatty foods and consuming too much caffeine may cause the intestinal muscles to contract. This leads to cramping and other symptoms. Furthermore, dairy foods and alcohol can worsen symptoms. Foods that may trigger bloating and gas include cabbage, beans, and too much fruit.

Diagnosing Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Before making a diagnosis for IBS, physicians have to rule out other possible stomach and intestinal conditions. There is no specific test to diagnose irritable bowel syndrome.
For this matter, patients should anticipate undergoing a series of tests. These might include:

• Flexible sigmoidoscopy
• Colonoscopy.
• Computerized tomography (CT) scan
• Lactose intolerance tests
• Blood tests

Published: 2006-04-23
Author: Valencia Higuera

About the author or the publisher
Valencia Higuera is a freelance writer from Chesapeake, Va. The Old Dominion University graduate has a degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing and journalism. Writing credits include non-fiction articles for print and online publications.

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