Irritable bowel syndrome is a combination of intermittent pain or cramps in the abdomen, constipation and/or diarrhoea. Although most of the affected people ignore the disorder and never consult a doctor, the patients should be consulting a gastroenterologist. The disorder mostly develops in people between the age of 20 and 30 years, and is twice as common in females as in males. It is a common disorder and two out of ten people suffer from this condition some or the other time in their life.
Although irritable bowel syndrome can be distressing, it does not lead to serious complications and can be easily treated with care and caution.
The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome recur for many years and often persist into old age. They vary widely among people. The main symptoms are:
- Abdominal bloating combined with excessive quantities of wind.
- Pain in the abdomen generally on the lower left side, that may be relieved by defecation or passing wind.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Diarrhoea, which may be most severe on waking and sometime alternates with bouts of constipation that may produce ‘rabbit pellet’ stools.
- Feeling that the bowel has not been emptied completely.
- Mucus found in the stool.
- A feeling of fullness that results in difficulty during consumption of meals.
Although the main cause of irritable bowel syndrome is unknown, it may be mainly due to:
- Abnormal contractions of the muscles in the walls of the intestines
- Sensitivity towards certain food types like spicy food, fruits or fatty foods
- Irritable bowel syndrome may also be the result of gastrointestinal infection
- It can also be hereditary and run in families, which suggests that genetic factors are involved
The diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome is made on the basis of the symptoms, medical history and other physical tests. The type and number of tests to be done may depend upon the person’s age. According to the symptoms, if you suffer from the inflammatory bowel syndrome like the Crohn’s disease, you may be asked to do further investigations by your doctor. Firstly, you may be asked to do a blood test to check for inflammation, which can indicate the presence of Crohn’s disease. If the tests are positive, you may have to undergo a colonoscopy. You may also have to undergo tests to exclude food intolerance and lactose intolerance, which show symptoms similar to irritable bowel syndrome.
How to keep the inflammation or irritation of the bowels under control?
- By making dietary and lifestyle changes.
- If possible, avoid large quantities of milk products and foods that are spicy, fried, fatty.
- If you suffer from constipation, try to increase your fibre intake. And if you suffer from bloating or diarrhoea, reduce your fibre intake.
- Eat at regular times.
- Keep a diary of the foods you eat. Avoid food or drink that seems to bring on an attack of irritable bowel syndrome.
- Avoid or at least reduce consumption of tea, coffee, milk, cola and beer.
- Quit smoking.
- Try relaxation exercise to alleviate stress.
As irritable bowel syndrome is not a serious condition, it can be treated easily. However, the symptoms of this disorder can be quite distressing, and thus it can be controlled by watching your diet and practising relaxation techniques on daily basis. If there is still no improvement, you should see your doctor for further treatment. Your doctor may prescribe antispasmodic drugs to relax the contractions of the digestive tract and help to relieve abdominal pain. Your doctor may also suggest anti-diarrhoeal drugs to alleviate diarrhoea, especially if you have diarrhoea on waking up.
In case you are suffering from psychological symptoms like anxiety or depression along with irritable bowel syndrome, you may be referred to a therapist who can help to control these symptoms.
Irritable bowel syndrome is considered to be a long-term disorder. It may often last into old age, with attacks that get less frequent and more severe with time.