Over 55 million Americans suffer with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). It is extremely common and often ignored.
Symptoms of IBS include diarrhea, constipation, abdominal cramps and bloating. For some people, symptoms are mild; many don’t even seek treatment for the condition. For others it can be very distressing and make it difficult to carry on normal daily activities.
Though the specific cause is unknown, many attribute the condition to stress. It is not unusual for people to respond to stress with some sort of physical reaction, often centering in the gastrointestinal system. With IBS, the muscles of the intestines don’t move as they should. And this “gut” reaction to stress can be annoying, uncomfortable and even painful.
When someone complains of these symptoms, the first thing we do is rule out other underlying causes such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or cancers of the colon. The absence of another disease can indicate that the problem is IBS.
The most important thing to remember is that though it can be uncomfortable, it is definitely not serious and does not lead to more dangerous diseases. Even so, the symptoms should not be ignored. While there is no precise cure for IBS, a modified diet, lifestyle changes and medications can alleviate the pain and discomfort and help those with the condition lead a more normal life.
Dietary changes can be effective, especially when specific foods that provoke the symptoms are eliminated. For example, increasing dietary fiber and avoiding items that stimulate the intestines such as caffeine may stop chronic diarrhea. Lifestyle changes including regular exercise and improved sleep have also been shown to reduce anxiety and relieve symptoms.
When diet and lifestyle changes produce no improvement, there are some medications such as smooth (intestinal) muscle relaxers and low-dose antidepressants that may help relieve intestinal pain.
There is no single solution for IBS, since the condition affects each person differently. And there is no surgical remedy.
However, there’s no need to live with chronic diarrhea, constipation and pain. Consult a physician and see what you can do to help you get your intestinal tract back on track.