Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a harmless intestinal disease, but can be very troublesome. In case of IBS, the intestine makes irregular, convulsive and spasmodic movements. The intestinal muscles contract too rapidly or just too slowly. Some IBS patients also (or only) suffer from a hypersensitive and irritable intestinal wall.
The cause of IBS is not known. Probably it’s a combination of factors. In any case, a disturbed (spastic) movement of the intestine and/or an extra-sensitive intestinal wall play a role. In addition, the following factors may have influence:
- There might be an abnormal processing of stimuli in the gastrointestinal tract and possibly also in the brains, so people with IBS perceive pain and stimuli in the intestines sooner than other people. A lot of research is done here.
- IBS might occur as a result of an intestinal infection (food poisoning).
- The intestines of people with IBS can make irregular and alternating movements, which may cause constipation or just diarrhea.
- A poor diet can worsen the symptoms of IBS. A low-fiber or unilateral diet usually worsens symptoms. However, in some people with IBS, the symptoms can worsen just by eating fiber.
- Stress (emotions, tension, nervousness, etc.) can lead to worsening of the symptoms.
IBS symptoms vary from person to person. Even in one person, the symptoms can vary from day to day. Periods with and without symptoms may alternate.
The most characteristic symptom of irritable bowel syndrome is an aching, cramping or stabbing pain in the abdomen. this can be very severe. part of ibs patients have abdominal pain mainly in the evening and nighttime, whether or not accompanied by urge. the abdominal pain sometimes decreases after bowel movement or passing wind.
IBS is accompanied by an abnormal relief pattern. Part of IBS patients suffer particularly from constipation, while others have especially diarrhea. A relief pattern, in which constipation and diarrhea alternate, is also common. The relief pattern may change during the day. Sudden, not sustainable urge is common.
Additionally, IBS patients often have other gastrointestinal symptoms. Common symptoms are gas, flatulence, bloating, abdominal distension, acid reflux, difficulty swallowing and lump in the throat.
Examples of symptoms outside the gastrointestinal tract are fatigue, muscle pain, back pain, headache, urinating problems, irregular menstruation and pain during or after sexual intercourse.
The general practitioner can often make the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome based on the symptoms. If there are doubts about the cause of the symptoms, the general practitioner will refer the patient for further examination. This may include stool tests, blood tests, ultrasound and several types of endoscopy, such as gastroscopy and colonoscopy. When no physical defects are found, the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome can be confirmed.
IBS cannot be cured with medication, but medication can reduce the symptoms. They are intended to improve the bowel movements, to control the pain or a combination of these.
In some cases, the symptoms of IBS patients can be reduced by hypnotherapy or pelvic floor physical therapy. With hypnotherapy, a person learns under hypnosis to positively influence the intestines. In pelvic floor physical therapy, the patient learns to train the pelvic floor muscles, because IBS symptoms can be caused by problems with the pelvic floor muscles.
IBS is not a serious, but a nasty disease that can have an impact on normal life. A day out, for example, is difficult when there is diarrhea. Flatulence during an important presentation can also be very annoying.
- Use a healthy and varied diet with sufficient fiber. Healthy and balanced diet includes all the nutrients that a person daily needs. Fibers ensure a proper bowel function.
- Drink sufficient fluids. When a person uses a lot of fiber, it’s extra important to drink plenty. Fibers need moisture in order to work properly.
- Avoid stress. Stress is not the cause of IBS but it can make the symptoms worse. There are several ways to reduce stress. This can be done by yoga or meditation, but also by exercise or sports.
- Get enough exercise (walking, cycling, swimming). Exercise is important for bowel movement and proper digestion. It can also prevent constipation.
- Probiotics are products that include large amounts of useful lactic acid bacteria. These may have a beneficial effect on intestinal problems. Some people with IBS say that their symptoms diminished after using probiotics.
- Peppermint oil can reduce symptoms for some people with IBS.
- Quit smoking. For overall health, it’s wise not to smoke.