Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or “IBS”, is a gastrointestinal disorder that is typically associated with a number of symptoms being present that include abdominal pain, cramping, increased gas, food intolerance, and bloating.
In other words, it’s a combination of stomach discomfort and abnormal bowel habits.
While it is very uncomfortable and does affect one’s livelihood, it is far from being life-threatening and does not indicate a higher likelihood of developing colon conditions like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
But it can be a long-lasting hindrance that can disrupt the way sufferers of IBS live their lives.
Found in both adults and children, IBS can be referred to as a functional disorder.
So, instead of something being wrong with the physical tissue of the digestive system, IBS symptoms are the result of changes in the functioning of the digestive system.
While you probably won’t be admitted to hospital for having IBS, the sheer quality-of-life impact it can have means it deserves a closer look.
We’ll start by explaining the causes of IBS before jumping into the signs and symptoms experienced by IBS patients.
Finally, we’ll offer some insight into currently prescribed treatment methods.
Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
There are several factors that can trigger the onset of IBS symptoms with the underlying cause being that of a change in gut bacteria.
A number of other factors including the alteration of the gastrointestinal tract motility, and abnormal nervous system signals all contribute to the possible onset of IBS symptoms.
Naturally, there are different ‘triggers’ for different people.
This slightly complicates the issue of highlighting a particular cause or solution and heralding it as the final answer to understand and treat or cure IBS.
For now, we have to look at a broad range of risk factors that may predispose one to IBS and it’s related symptoms.
First on the list is SIBO which stands for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth.
Essentially, this refers to when you have too much bacteria in your small intestine.
This indicates a shift in the balance of your small intestine’s environment.
SIBO has its own list of risk factors ranging from diabetes to having a small intestine with an unusual shape.
In essence, SIBO usually starts when your small intestine doesn’t move food along the way it should. This can cause bacteria to grow and stay in an area too long.
An imbalance can then occur if the “good” bacteria is hindered by the proliferation of harmful bacteria.
2. Food Sensitivities
This is most likely caused due to poor absorption of sugars or acids in food. The result is irritation of the bowels and typically leads to IBS symptoms.
Psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression have been found in many people with IBS. Whether the two are a result of causation or a simple correlation is unknown with IBS.
In other words, psychological conditions may not be a direct cause of IBS but research may find that it increases the probability that you will develop IBS.
4. Other Causes
There are several more factors that may lead to IBS symptom development.
Gastroenteritis, also known as a “stomach bug” and caused by a viral or bacterial infection of the stomach and intestines, can trigger IBS symptoms.
Genetic factors, hypersensitivity to pain from a full bowel, and abnormal movements of the colon and small intestine all contribute to the likelihood of IBS symptoms developing.
Signs and Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Generally speaking, IBS involves changes in the frequency and physical form of bowel movements. It is normally associated with lower abdominal pain as well.
Pain and cramping happen to be the most common symptoms and a key factor in diagnosing the presence of IBS.
The cause of this, as mentioned earlier, is related to changes in a patient’s microbiome.
Diarrhoea affects about one-third of those suffering from IBS making it another common sign of IBS. This in contrast to a less intuitive sign of IBS, namely constipation.
In fact, constipation affects nearly half of people with IBS. The root cause lies in altered communication between the brain and the bowel causing a change in bowel movement speed.
One of the most annoying reported symptoms of IBS is bloating. Most people with IBS report this making it an expected symptom when dealing with irritable bowel syndrome.
The above signs and symptoms are quite consistent across patients with high probabilities of occurring in patients with IBS. The next couple of symptoms vary more wildly among patients.
Fatigue has been attributed to IBS with adults finding themselves low on energy at work and in social interactions.
Patients with IBS have also found that their sleep suffers – difficulty falling asleep, waking frequently, and feeling unrested in the morning have all been reported.
In general, patients have found their energy levels and restful states much lower with the onset of irritable bowel syndrome.
Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Treating IBS is a matter of installing lifestyle and dietary changes that are recommended by a doctor.
This means that a holistic approach is required to deal with the many facets of one’s biology and lifestyle that may be causing the patient’s IBS.
In general, lifestyle changes and recommendations about what you should eat may be combined with medicines, probiotics and mental health therapy, depending on the patient’s particular risk profile.
Patients need to heed the medical advice of their doctors when it comes to their specific situation.
That said, here are a number of treatments that your doctor may recommend or extra treatments you could add to your treatment plan.
A solution seemingly as old as modern medical advice itself, the benefits of exercise apply to IBS therapy as well.
Not only has it been shown to improve IBS symptoms, but it also has a well-known effect on anxiety and depression which are IBS risk factors.
Exercise has the potential to alleviate symptoms and lower the reoccurrence of IBS down the line.
2. Set a Sleep Schedule
Our bodily functions are controlled by our biological clocks, or circadian rhythms. Gut functioning also follows this cycle. As a result, if one’s sleep is disrupted, the gut may be suffering.
It’s recommended to stick to a sleep schedule to help control fluctuations in gut irregularity.
If one is travelling across time zones, it may be worth taking some melatonin which can help regulate the circadian rhythm.
Consistency is key here. The upsides can be significant, not just for gut health but for one’s overall health as well.
Your doctor may prescribe certain medications to alleviate IBS symptoms and combat their reoccurrence.
An antihistamine may be given as this can help lower the histamine released in your gut due to an allergic reaction.
This can lead to reduced inflammation and a resultant decrease in IBS symptoms.
Antidepressants in low doses have been shown to alleviate symptoms.
Depending on the type of symptoms a patient is experiencing, different antidepressants may be prescribed.
Some help to inhibit the activity of nerves in the gut which helps to lower pain.
In other cases, an antidepressant can be prescribed to speed up the gastrointestinal tract.
As mentioned earlier, IBS could be the result of an overgrowth of bacteria.
In such cases, an antibiotic such as Rifaximin may be given by your doctor to inhibit the bacteria’s growth.
4. Diet and Lifestyle
Several lifestyle changes can help alleviate IBS symptoms. Another two worth mentioning here are probiotics and yoga.
Probiotics help to balance your gut microbiome. They’re referred to as the “good bacteria” and can be found in many food sources such as dairy products and fruit like bananas.
Including this in your diet can be a good idea to get your gut microbiome to a sustainably healthy position.
Yoga has been suggested to alleviate the symptoms of IBS.
One way it may achieve this is by increasing serotonin levels thereby decreasing feelings of stress and anxiety.
Irritable bowel syndrome does not have to be a debilitating problem for which there is no solution.
There are, however, nasty symptoms such as cramping, abdominal pain, and bloating which can make certain aspects of life unpleasant.
Through following the advice of a doctor, there are a number of effective therapeutic methods with the most notable being overall lifestyle changes accompanied by targeted medication.
Irritable bowel syndrome can affect one’s life ranging from a reduced amount of sleep to abdominal pain and less energy to do what you love.
The symptoms of cramping, abdominal pain, and bloating are responsible for this, in some cases quite severe, hindrance on normal human functioning.
There are however lifestyle and dietary changes which can be implemented, along with the medicinal prescriptions from a doctor, that can alleviate most, if not all, of the suffering experienced by those with irritable bowel syndrome.
For more information on the treatment of IBS in Johannesburg, contact Dr. Schneider or visit www.gidocjhb.co.za and book your consultation today.
DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ CAREFULLY
The information on this website is to provide general guidance. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive medical advice and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a Gastroenterologist or medical doctor regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs including, but not limited to: abdominal pain, haemorrhoids or anal / rectal bleeding as it may a sign of a serious illness or condition. A thorough consultation and examination should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call a physician or call our office today and schedule a consultation.