Just Another Teachin’ Tuesday: Irritable Bowel Syndrome

My teenage daughter endures irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). She manages it so well now; however, when it first knocked upon her door almost two years ago she went through hell. It was a frightening experience that lasted much too long because we couldn’t arrive at the correct diagnosis.

Let’s see if we can help you, or someone you know, avoid the same. It’s time to learn about IBS, thought to impact one in five Americans.

IBS is a disorder that features abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. As with most any disorder, the symptoms may vary greatly on a per case basis. Fortunately, as uncomfortable – disabling, in fact – as it can be, it’s doesn’t lead to more serious consequences. And it isn’t a precursor of cancer or other diseases.

Sorry, female types, but it occurs more frequently in women. And in half of all cases, the age of onset is typically prior to the age of 35.

There is no “cure” for IBS, and it’s typically managed through medicine, diet, and stress and lifestyle management.

So what causes IBS?

No one really knows, though there’s tons of conjecture. It’s thought that some come into this world with a small and large intestine that are simply more sensitive to specific foods and stress. And it’s believed the immune system may come into play.

Also implicated are problems with motility, an autonomic movement dynamic that takes place in our digestive tract. Abnormal motility, no motility at all, and spams may be major contributors to IBS.

Another issue may be the contents in the colon moving too quickly, inhibiting the absorption of necessary fluids. And that leads to too much fluid in the stool – and diarrhea. Conversely, contents may be moving too slowly through the colon resulting in too much fluid absorption – and constipation.

And then there’s our old buddy serotonin. Don’t know if you knew this, but 95% of our serotonin supply is found in our digestive tract. Well the transportation, if you will, of serotonin in the digestive tract – as in our brains – is managed by receptor cells that line the inside of the bowel. And this receptor activity is diminished in those enduring IBS, leading to abnormal and fluctuating levels of serotonin. This is what generates issues with bowel regularity, motility, and pain.

A bacterial infection may be a portion of the problem. It’s known that people who’ve endured gastroenteritis at times develop IBS. Within that context it’s referred to as post-infectious IBS.

Finally, very mild celiac disease, caused by the inability to digest gluten, has been noted in some experiencing symptoms similar to IBS.

Is there some sort of test that can tell me if I have IBS?

No. But there are plenty of tests that can rule-out other situations, allowing you and your physician to focus upon the possibility of IBS. When it’s all said and done,  a diagnosis of IBS is based upon the presentation of symptoms. Here’s what physicians look for (and so should you)…

  • Abdominal pain or distress for at least 12 weeks over the past 12 months. The 12 weeks don’t have to be consecutive.
  • The pain and discomfort have at least two of these features – relief by having a bowel movement, upon onset of an episode there’s a change in the frequency of bowel movements, upon onset of an episode there’s a change in how stool is formed or how it looks.
  • The presence of these symptoms – change in frequency and appearance of bowel movements, feeling of uncontrollable urgency to have a bowel movement, difficulty or inability to pass stool, mucus in the stool, bloating.

What can make IBS worse?

  • Eating large meals, various medicines, wheat, rye, barley, chocolate, milk products, alcohol, and drinks with caffeine
  • Stress and emotional upset
  • Symptoms may increase during menstruation
  • Mood and anxiety issues

How is IBS treated?

  • Stress, lifestyle, and diet management
  • Medicines and supplements to treat diarrhea and constipation
  • Antispasmodic medicines
  • Antidepressants
  • Bladder and intestine muscle relaxers
  • alosetron hydrochloride (Lotronex) – a medicine that specifically addresses treatment-resistant IBS in women whose primary symptom is diarrhea. It is prescribed with great caution.

So there you have it – a brief bit of IBS reference for you. Hopefully you’ll find it helpful for you, or someone you know or love.

Your experiences with IBS are important to all of us. Please feel free to share in a comment.

For more information, hit this site – I used it for much of my research.

image credit digestivewellness.co.uk