Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder characterized by several symptoms including abdominal pain, abdominal distention and altered bowel movement.
The cause is frequently idiopathic for the majority of affected patients. However, some factors have been linked with the occurrence of the disorder such as intake of food or drinks that are known to cause gastric discomfort. Examples of these foods include spices, citrus, carbonated drinks, coffee, chocolates and some drugs such as antibiotics. Stress and other psychological dysfunctions have also been implicated as aggravating factors.
About one out of five people are affected by IBS, majority of which are from the young adult population, ages 20-30 years old. It has been discovered that women are two times more susceptible to developing IBS than men.
The pathology of IBS is understood to be caused by hypersensitivity of the gastrointestinal system to pain during process of physical digestion and chemical breakdown of food. IBS patients usually have a normal looking GI tract, although gross and microscopic inflammation has also been noted with some patients. Psychological instability, on the other hand, can also cause hormonal changes that may affect digestion and overall body processes.
The duration of symptoms may vary from a couple of days to weeks. It may occur only once, but most experience recurrent episodes. The onset of symptoms may vary differently with each person. It is often self-limited and improves over a period of time. There is no absolute cure for the disease and only supportive measures are done as the primary mode of management. Gastrointestinal pain medications may be given to mask out the unwanted pain. Supportive treatment should be started when activities of daily living are already affected.
Diagnosis of IBS can be concluded if the patient’s symptoms include recurrent episodes of abdominal discomfort, bloating with the experience of relief upon defecation and bowel movement changes. It is still best to seek professional consult as soon as possible. Clinical tests and imaging can be done to help rule in or rule out other possible etiologies. It is essential to rule out anatomical or other functional disorders like ulcer, obstruction, gall stones, tumors, malignancy and motility problems before the diagnosis of IBS is made. Prompt management greatly improves the quality of life.
Some may take IBS casually, but others find it debilitating. Avoiding gastric irritants can help lessen the episodes of discomfort. Oral fluid hydration and electrolyte replacement is important for those experiencing vomiting or loose bowel movement. High fiber intake and regular exercise like walking or running may help relieve constipation. Seeking psychiatric help may improve anxiety, depression or other mental problems that could be the cause of the gastrointestinal hypersensitivity. Anxiolytics, antidepressants or therapy sessions must be started if the cause of IBS is deemed psychological.
Typically, irritable bowel syndrome can be monitored and treated as out-patient basis. It does not impose a huge threat to health if managed appropriately. Progression to cancer or other serious illness can be rare. Diet modification, meditation, exercise and supportive measures have been effective in lessening the occurrence of symptoms; hence, a person with IBS can actually live a normal life.
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