By Janet Pfeiffer
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common reasons for visiting a doctor or healthcare professional. In fact, about 50% of all gastrointestinal problems can be attributed to the symptoms of some form of IBS.
IBS is often wrongly confused with other digestive-related complaints – such as IBD and colitis. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) involve chronic inflammation of the intestinal tract – in its worst forms, it can be a seriously debilitating disease. Colitis refers to inflammatory disease of the colon.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is sometimes referred to as “spastic” colitis or “mucous” colitis – but it is really not a form of colitis. With IBS symptoms, it’s true that the gastrointestinal tract is irritable – but there is often no known medical cause – and no sign of actual clinical disease.
IBS is a condition in which there is no inflammation or ulceration, yet there are numerous symptoms which can be extremely debilitating. It’s vital to have a correct medical diagnosis if you are experiencing IBS symptoms – especially if you have any signs of rectal bleeding, mucus in the stools or black stools.
The most common symptoms of IBS are various types of stomach pain and bowel pain – there may be dull aches, sharp pains, alternating constipation and diarrhea, wind, bloating, nausea, mucus in the stools. A combination of constant straining with constipation and loose motions from diarrhea often contribute to hemorrhoids in IBS sufferers.
Other IBS symptoms include headaches, depression, fatigue, difficulty in concentrating.
Women are more frequently affected by IBS symptoms than men. One theory for this is hormonal – estrogen receptors line the intestinal tract and hormonal changes in women may affect the relationship between these receptors and fluid fluxes within the gut.
IBS symptoms may be intermittent and recurrent or continuous and constant. Particular foods may trigger symptoms sometimes – sometimes not. Particular situations may trigger symptoms sometimes – sometimes not. IBS symptoms may worsen during times of stress, anxiety or lack of sleep. IBS symptoms can last for a few days, a few months or even a few years at a time. The only thing that is certain about IBS symptoms and their causes is that they are unpredictable.
But the most important factor to remember is that even though IBS symptoms are distressing, disruptive, depressing and even debilitating – they are not dangerous. IBS symptoms cannot cause you physical harm. I often find that when folk who suffer from IBS realize that they are not in physical danger because of this complaint, the relief that this knowledge gives them often greatly reduces their anxiety, stress and pain, allowing them to relax, look at their illness from a different perspective and work towards a cure and prevention.