What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder characterized by abdominal pain, cramping and changes in bowel movements. Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder, meaning it is a problem caused by changes in how the GI tract works. The GI tract is a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube from the mouth to the anus. The movement of muscles in the GI tract, along with the release of hormones and enzymes, allows for the digestion of food. People with a functional GI disorder have frequent symptoms, but the GI tract does not become damaged. IBS is not a disease; it is a group of symptoms that occur together.
GI Tract (colon)
Irritable bowel syndrome is estimated to affect 3 to 20 percent of the population, However, less than one-third of people with the condition see a health care provider for diagnosis.  IBS affects about twice as many women as men and is most often found in people younger than 45 years.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe but are present for at least six months. They will often occur after meals, come and go, and be reduced or eliminated after a bowel movement. 
The most common symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain or discomfort, often reported as cramping, along with diarrhea, constipation, or both. Sometimes, people with IBS will also suffer from diarrhea or constipation.

The exact causes of IBS are not known. Researchers believe a combination of physical and mental health problems can lead to IBS. The possible causes of IBS include , Brain-gut signal problems, GI motor problems, Hypersensitivity, Mental health problems, Bacterial gastroenteritis, Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), Body chemicals, Genetics, Food sensitivity.

In the past, IBS was called colitis, mucous colitis, spastic colon, nervous colon, and spastic bowel. The name was changed to reflect the understanding that the disorder has both physical and mental causes and is not a product of a person’s imagination.

Some normal lifestyle changes are the most effective ways to cope with IBS. Here are a few of the more effective changes you can make:

1. IBS leads to heartburn, so always avoid large meals and eating too fast. Foods that tend to aggravate IBS include wheat, rye, barley, beans, cabbage, some fruits, chocolate, alcohol, milk and caffeinated beverages.

2. Add more fiber to your diet. Fiber helps regulate diarrhea and constipation. Soluble fiber, in particular, can be very effective. Foods high in soluble fiber include apples, beans and citrus fruits. Don’t try to cheat with fiber supplements – these can actually make symptoms worse.

3. Try to de-stress, in whatever way possible. Anxiety has been linked with IBS. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep at night, and if possible, try to clear a little time in your day to relax and enjoy yourself. Some people claim that therapy can help with IBS symptoms.

4. Exercise. Studies show that people who weigh less and are more physically fit report less abdominal pain than those who are heavier. Also, for a lot of people, exercise is a great way to reduce stress.

5. Are you lactose intolerant? If milk and other dairy products bother you, you may have lactose intolerance. This means that your body is unable to digest the sugar in milk. If you suspect you are lactose intolerant, limit the amount of dairy products in your diet, and talk to your doctor.

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