Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS is a common, chronic condition that affects the quality of life of thousands of people. In fact, it affects a third of the population at one time or another, and one in ten of us is sufficiently uncomfortable to go to the doctor about it. The embarrassment factor prevents many from seeking help or advice, but there is plenty of help available and no shame in asking for it.
IBS is sometimes also referred to as 'spastic colon'. This is because the nerves controlling the muscles in the gastro-intestinal tract are over-active, causing muscle spasms in the colon. In this instance the tract becomes sensitive to various different foods as well as stress - anxious feelings can set off this reaction in the over-sensitive part of the digestive system. The result of this is generally abdominal pain and bloating, and often a cycle of alternating constipation and diarrhoea. Some of the other symptoms you may experience are rumbling stomach, an urgent need to empty the bowels and a feeling of incomplete emptying after using the toilet, sometimes even nausea and vomiting and loss of appetite. It is also known as 'mucous colitis', although IBS is the most usual term.
IBS has some symptoms in common with the more severe Crohn's Disease, but although it is not as serious as this it can still cause misery, and exacerbate the depression it is often brought on by. This cycle can be hard to break. It is more common in women than in men, and can continue for months or years if not treated. As aforementioned, since many people do not seek help for IBS from a doctor, it can indeed go untreated for a long time. People sometimes do not think of their symptoms as connected in any way, and put up with them as just a fault in their digestive system.
IBS is essentially a catch-all term for different collections of digestive dysfunctions - it is not inflammatory and should not be confused with Irritable Bowel Disease, although it can often occur simultaneously with this more serious condition. There are three forms of IBS itself, dependant on which of the various symptoms is presenting as most prominent: diarrhoea-predominant (IBS-D), constipation-predominant (IBS-C) and IBS with alternating stool pattern (IBS-A). Most people try to alleviate their IBS symptoms by altering their diet and lifestyle and finding out what works best by a process of trial and error. IBS is often self-diagnosed, but the diagnosis should always be confirmed by a doctor or gastroenterologist.
Copyright 2006 David McEvoy