Irritable bowel syndrome is a common health condition that affects the large intestine and causes symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. While it is a chronic condition, for most people, symptoms are not severe and are manageable with diet and lifestyle changes. Unlike some other digestive health conditions, irritable bowel syndrome does not change the bowel tissues or increase the risk of colon cancer.
What causes irritable bowel syndrome?
While the exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is unknown, there are some factors that seem to play a role. For example, nervous system abnormalities, muscle contractions in the intestine, severe infection, changes in the bacteria found in the gut, and early life stressors may contribute. Some people may find that foods like citrus fruits, dairy products, wheat, beans, cabbage, and carbonated drinks make symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome worse. Stress can also trigger symptoms.
What are the complications of irritable bowel syndrome?
The ongoing constipation and diarrhea that come with irritable bowel syndrome can sometimes cause hemorrhoids. Another potential complication is poor quality of life; for example, people with irritable bowel syndrome may miss a significant amount of work due to their symptoms. People who struggle with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are also more likely to experience depression and anxiety.
How is irritable bowel syndrome treated?
Lifestyle changes can typically control mild symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. These may include getting enough sleep, engaging in regular exercise, consuming adequate amounts of fiber and liquids, and avoiding foods that seem to trigger symptoms. A doctor may recommend a special diet or medications that help to manage symptoms, such as fiber supplements, laxatives, or anti-diarrheal medications. Some people may take antidepressants or pain medications to cope with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. There are also medications that are used specifically for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, such as Viberzi, which reduces muscle contractions in the intestine and can alleviate diarrhea, or Lotronex, which relaxes the colon. These medications can have serious side effects, and some may only be approved for use with women.
- “I have significant stomach pain and cramping every time I have a bowel movement.”
- “I often feel gassy and bloated, and sometimes I have mucus in my stool.”
- “I suffer from bouts of diarrhea, especially when I eat certain foods, like dairy products.”