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According to the Irritable Bowel Syndrome Association, roughly 10 to 15 percent of Americans suffer from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) symptoms. Characterized by such symptoms as cramp-like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation, IBS can be uncomfortable and distressing. However, it does not cause permanent harm to the intestines, or lead to intestinal bleeding or serious disease such as cancer.
The colon of an IBS patient is more sensitive and reactive. It can react to stimuli by moving contents too quickly through the colon, causing watery diarrhea. The colon can also react by slowing down the movement of contents, causing constipation.
The cause of IBS is not known. IBS is called a functional disorder rather than a “disease.” Women are more susceptible to IBS than men, and it usually begins around age 20. Emotional stress is often blamed for causing IBS, since no physical damage to the colon is detected. However, while stress may worsen symptoms of IBS, other factors are also at play.
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What Causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms?
The following have been reported to worsen symptoms of IBS:
- Large meals
- Wheat, rye, barley, chocolate, milk products, alcohol
- High levels of fructose
- Carbohydrates in foods like wheat, beer, garlic, onions, artichokes, asparagus,
- Sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, fruits, cabbage, beans, lentils, and soy
- Insoluble fiber found in wheat and bran
- Large amounts of fat
Women with IBS may experience more symptoms during their menstrual periods, suggesting that reproductive hormones can exacerbate IBS.
Your doctor will need a complete medical history and a physical examination to make a diagnosis. The doctor may perform stool or blood tests, X-rays, or an endoscopy to rule out other possible causes.
Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms
There’s evidence and data to suggest that antidepressant drugs, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and hypnotherapy may reduce symptoms of IBS and improve quality of life. Some IBS patients find it useful to review their diets with a registered dietitian or physician.
Originally published in May 2016 and updated.