Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional G.I. (gastrointestinal) disorder that can produce mild to severe symptoms. Most of the symptoms are caused by specific changes in exactly how the gastrointestinal tract functions. Many individuals that suffer from IBS experience frequent symptoms; however, even the most severe symptoms typically do not cause damage to the G.I. tract.
Irritable bowel syndrome is actually a collection of symptoms that often occur together, so it is not classified as a disease.
Over time, this collection of labels transformed into a single label ‘ IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). The change reflects how the understanding of this serious disorder has both mental and physical causes, and does not reside in the individual’s imagination.
Diagnosis of IBS often begins when the individual presents abdominal discomfort or pain for a minimum of three months when no other injuries or diseases have been present to explain the pain. The discomfort and pain of IBS often occurs with changes in bowel elimination (stools) frequency and consistency, or when it can only be relieved during elimination.
Irritable bowel syndrome has four some type classifications, determined by the individual’s typical stool consistency. Each subtype is important because it can affect the kinds of treatment that are most appropriate for improving the symptoms. These poor specific subtypes of irritable bowel syndrome include:
IBS-C (With Constipation) : Individuals that experience lumpy or hard stools at least one fourth of the time, and experience watery or loose stools less than one fourth of the time fall into this classification
IBS-D (With Diarrhea) : Individuals that experience watery or loose stools at least one fourth of the time, and lumpy or hard stools less than one fourth of the time fall into this classification
IBS-M (Mixed IBS) : Individuals experiencing lumpy or hard stools more than one fourth of the time, and watery or loose stools more than one fourth of the time fall into this category
IBS-U (Unsubtype IBS) : Individuals that experience lumpy or hard stools less than one fourth of the time, and watery or loose stools less than one fourth of the time fall into this category.
Specific IBS Symptoms
Typically, common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include abdominal discomfort or pain, often presented as mild to severe cramping. In addition, it includes significant changes in routine bowel habits. To meet the standards of defined IBS, the discomfort or pain has to be associated with a minimum of two out of the three following symptoms. They include:
- Bowel movements occurring lesser more often than typical
- Stools appearing more watery (less solid) or more lumpy (harder) than typical
- Bowel movements that tend to significantly improve the discomfort and pain
Other IBS Symptoms Can Include:
- Diarrhea including watery, loose stools happening three times or more each day, with an urgent sensation to have a bowel movement
- Constipation, meaning the individual experiences less than three bowel movements every week.
In addition, these bowel movements tend to be dry, hard and small, making them challenging to pass.
Some individuals experience extreme pain during the bowel movement, which often requires straining to pass
- An incomplete sensation or feeling that the bowel movement is not over
- Bloating in the abdominal region
- Passing mucous, or a sticky, clear liquid produced by the intestines as a protective coating to the tissues of the G.I. tract
Many of the above symptoms will occur after consuming a meal. In order to meet the standard definition of irritable bowel syndrome, the symptoms must occur a minimum of three times every month.
Causes Of IBS
Unfortunately, many of the causes of irritable bowel syndrome are not completely understood. In fact, many researchers believe that the symptoms are the result of both mental and physical issues working in combination. Some of these include:
Brain-Gut Signaling Problem : Any disruption in the signaling from the nerves of the large and small intestine to the brain can disrupt the functional efficiency of the intestines. Often times, the signal disruption can cause changes in routine bowel habits producing discomfort and pain
G.I. Motor Problems : Typical motility (movement) might not be actively present inside the individual’s colon displaying the symptoms of IBS. In fact, slow motility often leads to constipation, while fast motility leads to diarrhea.
Any strong, sudden muscle contraction or spasm that comes and goes can cause significant abdominal pain. Many individuals that suffer from IBS also experience a level of hyper-reactivity, or a substantial increase in contracting bowels responding to eating or stress.
Hypersensitivity : Individuals that suffer from IBS typically have a low threshold of pain when the bowel stretches as a result of stool accumulation or gas. This hypersensitivity may result in many of the symptoms of IBS
Bacterial Gastroenteritis : Many individuals suffer from bacterial gastroenteritis, or serious irritation/infection of the intestines and stomach caused by the buildup of bacteria. Medical research does not fully comprehend why bacterial gastroenteritis leads to irritable bowel syndrome in some individuals, though significant abnormalities in the lining of the G.I. tract might be a factor
Some of the above symptoms of IBS can be triggered by the consumption of foods that are rich in carbohydrates, coffee, alcohol, or fatty and spicy foods. Diagnosis of the condition can be challenging, and often require a complete physical exam with a detailed medical history.