What Is IBS: Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms
What is IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Abdominal pain or discomfort. Diarrhea. Constipation. Dramatic changes in the bowel movements. These are among the most common Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms—discussed thoroughly in the succeeding paragraphs—characterizing this medical condition that upsets the digestive system. This is frequently linked to stress, mental issues like depression and anxiety, and previous infections in the digestive tract. Though the precipitating factors vary from one person to another, they mostly include stress, poor quality of sleep, changes in gut microflora, and of course, diet.
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Statistically, anyone can be affected, with an estimated 10-15% of the global population reportedly having this condition. This is also more prevalent in Latin America and less widespread in the regions of Southeast Asia. In addition, IBS affects women even more than men that in the United States alone, where about 25 to 45 million people are said to be affected, 2 out of 3 IBS cases are women. IBS gets less common with age and most IBS sufferers are below the age of 45 to 50, though it can affect anyone of all ages, including children and older adults. Good thing it doesn’t branch off to other serious illnesses and doesn’t influence life expectancy overall, despite the symptoms being usually lifelong.
The etiology or exact origin of the disorder is not clear, especially since there is no evidence of any underlying damages in the system. The symptoms, meanwhile, continue for a long time and may get so unpredictable. There is also no known cure for this digestive woe. Treatments are only administered to help manage the various symptoms. This includes medication such as taking laxatives and even antidepressants; dietary modifications comprising gluten-free diet, low FODMAP diet, and increased soluble fiber consumption; and counseling to manage its psychological impacts. All of this may also vary among people.
Now that we have shed lights upon what is IBS, listed below are the six common Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms that must be carefully measured out. This does not and will not serve as a set of diagnostic criteria or whatsoever for you to diagnose yourself. Only medical professionals can make an official diagnosis. It is, therefore, best to consult your physician for any suspicions. This is particularly important since only a handful of IBS sufferers seek medical attention for their condition. Having these symptoms is already distressing enough for the individual, living in a society with close to zero awareness about this problem is all the more an added burden.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms
It is generally considered that IBS has 3 types: 1) Constipation-predominant IBS or simply IBS with constipation which comes with abdominal discomfort and bloating but is described by hard stool and abnormally infrequent bowel movements, 2) Diarrhea-predominant IBS which also comes with the same pain and bloating but is marked instead by watery stool and abnormally frequent bowel movements, and 3) IBS with alternating constipation and diarrhea. This makes treating IBS tricky since doctors need to tailor a specific treatment regimen for the different types of IBS.
There is no wonder that IBS is a very distressing condition. Depending on the severity of the various Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms, which can get mild to severe, the person’s overall quality of life gets affected one way or another. From causing minor inconvenience especially when doing one’s daily activities to producing serious incapacitating conditions, the impact of IBS cannot really be overstated. It damages a person’s life physically, psychologically, socially, and professionally, often causing impairment in his overall wellbeing. Now let’s discuss the different Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms, starting with:
Abdominal Pain and Cramping
Abdominal pain—characterized by a feeling of constant and often short, stabbing pain, and cramping or spasms in the abdominal region—is among the most common Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms that its absence always practically excludes an IBS diagnosis. An episodic sensation typically occurs at least 3 days per month during the last 3 months, may last up to 10 or 15 minutes, and commonly lessens after a toilet session. Again, this symptom may vary from one person to another.
In this condition, the usual harmonious cooperation between various hormones and neurotransmitters operating in the digestive system becomes irregular, leading to the painful tension in the muscles in the gut. Surveys stated that the discomfort affects the daily activities for at least half of those with IBS. Diet modifications, certain medications, and even psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy will help manage the pain.
Bloating and Gas
For the constipation-predominant and mixed types, bloating and gas is among the most distressing Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms. This is due to distorted digestion where an overproduction of gas gets trapped in the lower large intestine. When foods are poorly digested, the bacteria in the gut initiate fermentation which in turn generates gas. This is a normal occurrence. However, when some dysfunction occurs at the first part of the digestive tract, an excess gas is produced since foods reached the large intestine still undigested. The gas inflates the intestinal wall, thus an expanded waistline, stimulating the pain receptors. 15 Foods That Cause Bloating
Flatulence or the passing of gas through the anus—and even belching, which is through the mouth coming from the stomach—then happens. This is again normal. But still may come in excess. Certain types of foods interact with gut bacteria, triggering the symptom in the process. Examples include beans and cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts. Overall, it shows how important it is to consider the condition of our gut microflora. The domination of “bad” bacteria over the “good” ones can lead to this undesirable symptom. Avoiding dairy products containing lactose and abiding a low FODMAP diet can greatly help. How To Get Rid of Gas & Bloating
Diarrhea, Constipation, or Both
Along with pain, among the major Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms are diarrhea and constipation. As mentioned above, the specific aspect of IBS is irregular and uncoordinated bowel contractions. Basically, when the digestive transit time gets too fast, diarrhea occurs. When it’s too slow, constipation ensues. Constipation, where bowel movements are lesser than three per week, can be associated with IBS for the abdominal pain that subsides following a visit to the toilet. Sometimes too, a sensation of an incomplete defecation results into potentially harmful straining. How to Relieve Constipation: Top 10 Home Remedies for Constipation
Diarrhea, on one hand, may go along with alternating stints of constipation. This happens when fecal materials overflow from behind the harder stools. The food either passes through too gently or too rapidly because the peristalsis—the rhythmic contractions of the bowel wall that moves all the materials through the digestive tract—becomes uncoordinated. What’s noteworthy is that since the brain and gut are in a working relationship here, psychological factors may have an effect on the condition. In fact, researchers linked anxiety, panic attacks, and especially stress to these digestive woes. Drinking plenty amount of water, partnered with exercise, and a soluble fiber diet are among the remedy.
Lethargy and Trouble Sleeping
Among the Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms that are common to any medical conditions are lethargy or fatigue, and difficulty sleeping, which may include feeling unrested the following day. Since it’s in the digestive system where most of the nutrient absorption happens, a dysfunction certainly leads to bad results. Energy level may decrease due to vitamins and minerals not being absorbed in the body, especially that diarrhea prevents the foods from staying longer in the gut. Insomnia: Foods That Will Help You Sleep At Night
Sleep also gets disturbed by the frequent need to go to the toilet; not to mention stomach and back pain. The parasympathetic nervous system is known as the “rest and digest system” because it controls digestion and other unconscious tasks in the body which take place when asleep. Naturally, any problems with the digestion become more evident, all the while disturbing sleep. Don’t forget that stress also contributes to the difficulty in sleeping. You may want to consider your caffeine intake and creating a good bedtime routine. Eat a balanced and healthy diet too, and bear in mind to always exercise.
Weight Loss or Weight Gain
Modifying your diet to tailor your special IBS need can indirectly affect your weight, by either gaining a few mass or losing some. For example, since certain types of fruits and vegetables can trigger IBS, changing them with carbohydrate sources can be an option. This in turn though can lead to weight gain (or weight loss if there’s a decrease in calorie consumption) as they contain more calories and reduced nutritional value. Psychologically, overeating may also serve as a coping mechanism with the stress you’re feeling.
Constipation generally lead to weight gain due to the excess material and water being reabsorbed while diarrhea leads to weight loss since there’s a malabsorption of important nutrients. Strive to manage your diet as much as possible. Know what kind of diet is good to eat and what to avoid. Moreover, drink enough glasses of water. Lastly, always keep your stress level at bay. Take a break and allow yourself some time to relax. Having Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms is already distressing enough.
Anxiety and Depression
Among the last Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms that we have on this list are psychological, particularly anxiety and depression. Anxiety is extreme worry or apprehension that is almost always translated into physical effects. Depression, on the other hand, is a mood disorder characterized by an intense feeling of sadness and hopelessness. Now we could see why people with IBS are more prone to these psychological issues. How to Overcome Anxiety: 20 Best Herbs for Anxiety
While it’s unclear for now which one goes first, it is usually a vicious cycle where either IBS tends to make people suffering from it develop psychological difficulties or that IBS symptoms are manifestations already of mental distress (the unhealthy type of stress). This makes psychotherapies essential, especially those stress-reducing therapies that are found to alleviate the symptoms. It also emphasizes the importance of consulting, not just to your doctor, but to a life coach and counselors.
Other symptoms include back and joint pains, bladder problems, incontinence or the lack of control over defecation, pain during sex also known as dyspareunia, dizziness, indigestion, and a weak immune system. Lastly, as aforementioned, when you suspect there’s a strong possibility of an IBS after reading all these symptoms, don’t ever hesitate on consulting your doctor. Always keep in mind that in dealing with all these Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms, you simply cannot do it all alone.