What are the symptoms of IBS?
People with IBS may experience constipation, diarrhoea, or a combination - constipation at some times and diarrhoea at other times. In addition, IBS may produce cramps, urgency, or a gassy, bloated feeling in the abdomen. Mucus, sometimes seen in bowel movements, is also a symptom of IBS. Rectal bleeding is never caused by IBS, and any rectal bleeding must be properly and thoroughly evaluated.
What causes IBS?
The underlying cause of this disorder is an abnormality in the way the intestinal muscles contract. These muscles, which form the outer layer of the intestine, work automatically to move food products along the intestine to the rectum and out the anus. IBS is a disorder of the function of the intestinal muscles. Even when the muscles appear normal under a microscope, they may not function normally, contracting too forcefully or weakly, too slowly or rapidly, at certain times.
What role does stress play in IBS?
Emotional stress may contribute to IBS. The brain and the intestine are closely connected by nerve fibers that control the automatic functioning of the intestinal muscles, and many people may experience nausea or diarrhoea when nervous or anxious. While we may not be able to control the effect stress has on our intestines, reducing the sources of stress in our lives - high pressure jobs, family tensions, etc. - may alleviate the symptoms of IBS.
Simply understanding that IBS is not a serious or life-threatening condition may relieve anxiety and stress. Increasing the amount of non-digestible, bulk-forming foods ("roughage") in the diet may be all that is needed to relieve symptoms. When the major complaint is constipation, additional water should be provided in the diet. Sometimes, caffeine, milk products or alcohol can make symptoms of IBS worse. Your physician may recommend avoiding foods that contain significant amounts of caffeine - coffee, tea, chocolate and cola drinks, for example - and alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine and "mixed" drinks. Your physician may also recommend that you avoid dairy products. In addition, smokers should beware: IBS symptoms may be aggravated by nicotine.
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