What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a condition that affects the nerves and muscles of the intestine. The intestine doesn't work like it's supposed to. IBS affects up to 15% of the US population. Typical symptoms of IBS include constipation, diarrhea, cramps, and abdominal pain. The level of discomfort can vary from day to day.

The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is unknown, but there are several possibilities. Because there are no visible changes in the intestines, such as tumors, infections, or deformities, some researchers believe the problem may be neurological, a problem with the nerves leading from the intestines to the brain, or even the brain itself. IBS can also be an immune disorder, where the body mistakenly attacks itself. It can be triggered by a severe bout of the stomach flu or other intestinal illness.

There are several things that can trigger an IBS episode. Foods, especially spicy foods, can trigger an episode, as can gas trapped in the intestine. Stress and hormonal changes can also affect IBS. Some medications can temporarily worsen the intensity of the disorder. Most IBS patients experience regular constipation or diarrhea, although some have alternating episodes of both. Almost constant stomach cramps are also very common. Other common symptoms include mucus in the stool, bloating, and an overly sensitive stomach.

Treatments for IBS vary from person to person. There are some medications available that can relieve some of the symptoms. Dietary changes are the most commonly recommended treatment. By avoiding trigger foods, such as broccoli and cabbage, or foods with a lot of caffeine or sugar, you can lessen the intensity of your symptoms. Limiting fatty foods can also help.

Regular exercise, such as swimming or running, can help regulate your bowels as well as reduce stress. Other relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, or progressive breathing, can reduce the occurrence of IBS episodes. Psychotherapy can also help, if the level of stress a person is experiencing cannot be reduced in other ways.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition. By working closely with a doctor, it is possible to have some symptom relief or even experience fewer episodes. Being informed, learning about personal triggers, and getting support are all ways to manage IBS. It is possible to live well, despite a diagnosis of IBS.

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