Could You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Heather Reese Health Guide
  • It is estimated that one in five Americans suffers from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), yet nearly 20 percent of those people do not seek medical attention because they are uncomfortable discussing their symptoms. This common condition is characterized by abdominal pain or cramping and changes in bowel function.

    The exact cause of IBS is unknown and it affects women twice as often as men. When people suffer from IBS, the muscles that line their intestinal walls do not contract and relax in a coordinated rhythm. The contractions are stronger and last longer than normal, which forces food through their intestines more quickly or slower than normal. This unpredictable rhythm is what causes the symptoms of IBS.
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    Only a small percentage of people experience severe signs and symptoms. They can fluctuate in severity and even completely disappear for a while. The signs and symptoms of IBS vary by individual and are often mistaken for those of other diseases. The most common ones include:

    • Abdominal pain or cramping
    • A bloated feeling
    • Gas
    • Diarrhea
    • Constipation
    • Mucus in the stool

    IBS differs from other intestinal diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, because it doesn’t cause inflammation or changes in the bowel tissue. It also does not increase your risk of colorectal cancer. For most people, IBS can be managed through diet, lifestyle and stress reduction.

    There are several foods that are widely associated with IBS, though it’s important to realize that triggers vary by individual. If you find that certain foods cause symptoms or make them worse than you should eat less of them or stop eating them all together. The following foods typically make IBS worse:

    • Fatty foods
    • Milk products
    • Chocolate
    • Alcohol
    • Caffeine

    To help you determine which foods trigger your symptoms, consider keeping a food diary. Try to record the following information:

    • Food intake
    • Symptoms
    • When the symptoms occur

    Large meals can also cause cramping and diarrhea in people with IBS. If this is the case, try to eat smaller meals more frequently. Four or five small meals can help alleviate symptoms. Fiber can also reduce IBS symptoms – particularly constipation – because it softens stool making it easier to pass. Fiber-rich foods include bran, whole grains breads and cereals, beans, fruits and vegetables.

Published On: January 29, 2007