Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is not a disease. It is classified as a “functional" bowel disorder, which means there is impaired functioning within the digestive system. In terms of IBS, the dysfunction may be connected to the sensitivity of the nerves in the intestines; the movement of the intestines; or the way in which the brain controls these functions.
IBS is diagnosed using criteria known as Rome II. This criterion calls for a review of the patient's bowel movements; stools (color, shape, consistency and frequency); severity and frequency of abdominal pain; fever; weight loss or weight gain; and interference of sleep due to IBS symptoms. In addition to meeting Rome II criteria, patients will need to undergo laboratory testing, including complete blood count, basic chemistry panel, and an erythrocyte sedimentation rate.
There are no diagnostic tests available to specifically diagnose irritable Bowel Syndrome. Instead, tests are performed to rule-out other diseases or disorders whose symptoms mimic those of IBS. Once it has been determined no other problems exist, physicians will use Rome II criteria to look for any ‘red flag’ symptoms.
Research has shown that people with irritable bowel syndrome do not have a normal gastrocolic reflex response. It is believed that IBS symptoms result from what appears to be a breakdown in communication within the digestive tract. This could be from a disturbance in the interaction between the gut or intestines and the brain, or between the gut or intestines and the autonomic system that controls the regulation of how the bowel functions.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome leaves people feeling as if their stomach is “tied in knots" and is characterized by recurring bouts of constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping. These symptoms can be triggered by food, exercise, medications, dietary supplements, stress and hormonal changes.
Nearly 80 percent of people diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome are women. It is estimated that nearly 15 percent of adults experience IBS symptoms at some point in their lives. The onset of Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms generally occur between the ages of 15 and 40; however it can also strike infants, children and the elderly. Irritable Bowel Syndrome often strikes during periods of significant stress or life changes; i. e. ; divorce, death, going off to college.
Currently, there is no cure for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Treatments generally focus on alleviating the symptoms and include high fiber diets or antispasmodic drugs to relieve constipation, or anti-diarrhea medications to relieve diarrhea.
Individuals with Irritable Bowel Syndrome usually find relief by changing their diet. Experts recommend eliminating high fat foods, most meat and dairy products, egg yolks, processed foods, sugar, flour, wheat, tobacco and alcohol. Others suggest increasing dietary fiber and reducing carbohydrates.
Eating foods rich in grains and protein may prove beneficial. The use of digestive enzyme supplements has shown to be effective in controlling Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms. Yoga and meditation or other stress reduction techniques may be helpful in reducing IBS symptoms. Some IBS sufferers claim that a daily walking program or water aerobics helps them better manage their symptoms.
Although Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be a frustrating and complex disorder, more often than not the symptoms can be managed through proper diet and exercise. Consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner or nutritionist to determine the best dietary program for you.
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