Normal Bowel Function

The colon functions to store and eliminate waste for our body. As waste (stool) passes through the colon, water is absorbed and a well-formed soft stool is created. Rhythmic contractions of the colonic muscles propel the stool from the right side of the colon to the left side and rectum where it will eventually be evacuated.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

When IBS is present, the colon does not contract in the usual manner. Contractions are disorganized and at times may be exaggerated and last for extended periods of time. Instead of contracting in a normal sequential manner, one are of the colon may contract with no regard for another or there may be very few contractions. These exaggerated, abnormal, painful contractions can lead to altered bowel movements. Constipation is the most common bowel pattern but diarrhea can also occur.

Who develops Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

IBS is not a disease and it does not lead to cancer. IBS is very common and tends to run in families. The disorder generally develops in young people between the teen years to below age 40.

What causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

There are many things about the large bowel still unknown, however, the following have been identified as IBS triggers:

  • Stress
    • Interactions between the brain and gut have been found to be the most common factor.
    • People with IBS have an overly sensitive bowel and possibly a super abundance of nerve impulses flowing to the gut.
    • During times of stress your brain sends these super abundances of nerve impulses to your gut and symptoms of IBS result.
  • Food
    • Spicy, hard to digest foods (greasy, fatty foods), chocolate, and milk can irritate the bowel.
    • Gas producing foods such as cabbage and beans can be disruptive.
    • Experimentation with changes to your diet is recommended to identify foods that trigger IBS.
  • Beverages
    • Alcohol and caffeinated drinks stimulate colon muscles and can upset the normal rhythm.

How is Irritable Bowel Syndrome diagnosed?

IBS is often suspected just by reviewing the medical history. It is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning other conditions need to be ruled out before a definitive diagnosis can be made.

Several other diseases of the gut (inflammation, infection, and even cancer) can mimic some or all of the IBS symptoms. Certain tests are helpful in making the diagnosis and include:

  • blood, urine, and stool tests
  • x-rays of the intestinal tract
  • sigmoidoscopy
  • colonoscopy
  • other tests as necessary per circumstance

If all other diseases or conditions are ruled out and a thorough medical history is completed, a firm diagnosis can usually be made.

How is Irritable Bowel Syndrome treated?

There is no cure for IBS and treatment is directed towards management of symptoms. You can be assured there is nothing serious wrong with your bowel. Symptoms can be successfully managed with a few lifestyle changes:

  • Stress Reduction
    • Exercise
    • Make time for relaxation
    • Meditation
    • Counseling or sharing feelings with family, friends, clergyman
  • Diet
    • Avoid known trigger foods
    • Eat slowly
    • Eat frequent small meals
    • Increase fiber intake and decrease fat intake
    • Drink 6 to 8 eight ounce glasses a day of nonalcoholic and noncaffeinated fluids
    • Gradually add fiber to diet
  • Medications
    • Over-the-counter laxatives or stool softeners
    • Antispasmodics to relieve colon spasms
    • Mild sedative
    • Anti-depressants
  • Routine physical check-ups