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Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Why You Shouldn’t Suffer in Silence

Irritable bowel syndrome is commonly referred to as IBS and can be extremely unpleasant and uncomfortable. IBS is estimated to affect up to 20% of the adult population in the United States.

It covers a wide variety of symptoms, some of which are related to the monthly menstrual cycle. Is not uncommon for women to experience some symptoms of IBS during their period. Other symptoms can include severe cramping and gas, as well as bloating, diarrhea and constipation.

Sufferers with IBS may feel nauseous and will frequently have stomach pain. After a bowel movement, you may still feel as if you need to go. You may feel full even when you haven’t had a large meal.

What Causes IBS?

At the moment, experts aren’t quite sure exactly what can cause IBS but it’s thought to be linked to the immune system which can begin to behave abnormally in people who have IBS. In people with healthy immune systems, the body will rush to your defense to fight bacteria and viruses, producing antibodies until the threat is eliminated.

Anyone with IBS will find their system works slightly differently, as the body continues to produce cells to fight infections even after the threat has passed and this prolonged immune response can lead to inflammation causing the discomfort and pain that is so common with IBS.

It is also thought that genetics could play a part, as IBS tends to run in families. However, IBS can also be down to lifestyle factors, which again may be due to family habits. One important thing is to note is that IBS is quite different from irritable bowel disease which is much more serious and which can lead to Crohn’s disease, or to colitis or colon cancer. Although potentially very unpleasant and painful, irritable bowel syndrome is not considered to be life-threatening.

Who Is More at Risk of Developing IBS?

Just about anybody can develop this condition as it really isn’t fussy about who it attacks. However, people have a family history of IBS are more likely to develop this problem as are smokers, people living in developing countries and people living in urban areas. Often the symptoms can develop early on in life, typically between the ages of 15 and 30.

How Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Diagnosed?

Generally, it’s worth seeking advice from your physician or from a gynecologist if you have any of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome for three months or more. Before your visit, it can be helpful to record the frequency of your symptoms and how long they last.

Also, ask close family relatives if there is any history of this disease in your family. This type of information can be very useful for your medical practitioner to try and diagnose the problem, especially as there isn’t a single definitive test for IBS.

Instead, they may recommend carrying out several different tests to collect more information about your condition. Typical tests that may be suggested include a colonoscopy and a rectal exam to help assess the health of your colon. It can also be useful to discover if you have any problems with lactose intolerance, are deficient in iron, or have unexplained weight loss.

What Is a Treatment for IBS?

There are various medications that can be prescribed to help deal with the symptoms of IBS, such as fiber supplements, antispasmodic supplements, and anti-diarrhea medications, but often treatment will focus on trying to eliminate triggers, reducing the frequency of attacks.

One thing that may be useful is to implement various dietary changes, using information as to when your symptoms occur to pinpoint foods that could trigger an attack. Trigger foods can include certain dairy products, caffeine and alcohol, sodas and artificial sweeteners, as well as certain fresh fruits and vegetables. It can help to aim to eat smaller meals more frequently than to have larger meals and be sure to drink plenty of water.

Sometimes people also find it very helpful to try to reduce stress levels as this may be a major trigger for an attack. If this applies to you, then your physician may be able to recommend some local support groups for IBS and some people find hypnosis or cognitive behavioral therapy to be very useful. Other techniques to try include biofeedback, deep breathing exercises and yoga and meditation.

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