What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome is a common bowel disorder consisting of a set of bowel symptoms characterized by abdominal pain, bloating and change in stool consistency and frequency such as constipation or diarrhea.
Signs and Symptoms
Every individual daily bowel movement varies. Normal bowel movement ranges from three stools a day to three stools a week. A normal stool is one that is formed but not hard, with no blood, and is passed without significant pain or discomfort. Individuals with irritable bowel syndrome usually have abdominal pain or discomfort with painful constipation or diarrhea, associated with bloating, flatulence and incomplete emptying of stool.
During constipation, your stool may be hard, small, pebble-like and difficult to pass. The passage of stool may refer to abdominal pain. During diarrhea, stool is usually frequent but in small volume, loose and watery with no blood but sometimes with excessive mucus. Diarrhea commonly occurs during periods of stress or excessive intake of high fat / high calories meals. In some people, constipation and diarrhea may alternate.
All these bowel symptoms often begin during early adulthood and occur over periods of days to weeks. Severe irritable bowel syndrome is also known to be associated with depression, anxiety and irritability. For female sufferers, they may also have sensitive bladder with frequent urinary symptoms, painful menstrual periods and generalized body ache with muscle cramps and joint pain.
It is believed to occur as a result of disturbed movement of the colon, altered sensation within the gastrointestinal tract and impaired interpretation of colonic sensorimotor signals by the brain.
Bear in mind that coordinated movement of the colon is an important daily function to ensure smooth passage of contents of the gastrointestinal tract towards the rectum. This vital function is directed by the brain through millions of connected nerves that extend through the intestine so controlling contracts and sensation of the gut. Therefore, psychological factors, your diet or past gut infection may trigger a change in the sensorimotor function of the colon resulting in irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.
- Most people have mild symptoms and are able to control their symptoms through education, reassurance, stress management, diet and lifestyle modification.
- Education and reassurance that irritable bowel syndrome will not lead to cancer or other diseases play a vital role in ensuring mental well-being and alleviate anxiety and fear.
- Regular exercises and relaxation techniques are helpful in reducing stress. A high fiber diet is usually recommended except for those with severe bleeding.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners, milk products, gas forming food and caffeine
- Individuals with moderate to severe symptoms will be recommended to take medication action on the colon – eg antispasmodics, prokinetic
- Individuals with severe refractory symptoms, low dose antidepressants helps to alleviate pain and diarrhea
- Alternative medicine such as herbal medicines, aromatherapy, yoga, meditation has shown to work on selected individuals
It is important to work closely with your doctor in managing irritable bowel syndrome. A step-wise program that encompasses diet and exercise planning, stress management techniques and targeted drugs can ensure an improved quality of life.