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Common Ailments ~ Irritable Bowel Syndrome


Irritable Bowel Syndrome

A combination of intermittent abdominal pain, constipation, and/or diarrhoea.

AGE: Most commonly develops between the ages o 20 and 30

GENDER: twice as common in females

GENETICS: sometimes runs in families

LIFESTYLE: stress and certain foods may make symptoms worse

Irritable bowel syndrome accounts for more referrals to gastroenterologists than any other disorder, although many affected people never consult a doctor.

The condition most often develops in people between the ages of 20 and 30 and is twice as common in women as in man.

As many as 2 in 10 people have symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome at some time in their lives. The symptoms, which include abdominal pain, constipation, and/or diarrhoea, tend to be intermittent but typically persist for many years. Although irritable bowel syndrome can be distressing, it does not lead to serious complications.

What are the causes

The precise cause of irritable bowel syndrome is unknown. It may result from abnormal contraction of the muscles in the intestinal walls. Normally, food travels through your digestive system propelled by wavelength contractions of the intestinal muscles. But with irritable bowel the contractions are irregular – fast and erratic, causing diarrhoea, or slow and weak causing constipation. An increased sensitivity to certain foods, such as fruit, sorbital, and fat, may also contribute. The disorder sometimes develop after a gastrointestinal infection. The problem can run in families, which suggests that genetic factors are involved. Stress, anxiety, and depression are associated with the syndrome and can make symptoms worse.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms are typically intermittent but usually recur for many years and often persist into old age. They vary widely among people with each episode. The main symptoms include:

  • Abdominal bloating combined with excessive quantities of wind
  • Abdominal pain, often on the lower left side, that may be relieved by defecation or passing wind
  • Diarrhoea, which may be most severe on walking and sometimes alternates with bouts of constipation that may produce “rabbit pellet” stools
  • Feeling that the bowel has not been emptied completely
  • Passage of mucous during defecation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling of fullness and difficulty in finishing meals

Many people have symptoms unrelated to the digestive tract, such as tiredness, headache, back pain, and an increased urge to pass urine. In women, sexual intercourse may be painful, and symptoms may be worse before menstrual periods.

You should consult your doctor if the symptoms are severe, persistent, or recurrent or if you are over 40 when the symptoms first develop, you should seek medical advice so that serious disorders with similar symptoms, such as colorectal cancer, can be ruled out.

How is it medically diagnosed?

There is no single test to diagnose irritable bowel syndrome. Instead, your doctor will want to make sure that you have no other serious condition. The type and number of tests used to investigate the disorder depend on your age.

If your symptoms suggest that you may have an inflammatory bowel disorder such as Crohn’s disease or if you are over the age of 40, your doctor will probably want to investigate your symptoms further. You may have a blood test to check for inflammation, which can indicate the presence of Crohn’s disease. If the result is positive or if your doctor suspects a colorectal tumour, you will probably have a contrast x-ray of the intestines or undergo a colonoscopy. You may also have tests to exclude food intolerance, which cause symptoms similar to those of irritable bowel syndrome.

What is the Medical view on treatment?

Although the symptoms can be distressing, irritable bowel syndrome is not a serious condition. There’s no cure for irritable bowel syndrome, anyone who suffers develops his or her own ways of living with the condition. You should usually be able to control your symptoms with a combination of a change in diet and relaxation techniques. However, if symptoms are troublesome enough to interfere with daily routines, you should consult your doctor for advice on treatment. You may be given antispasmodic drugs to relax the contractions of the digestive tract and help to relieve abdominal pain. You doctor may also prescribe antidiarrhoeal drugs to help to alleviate diarrhoea, especially if you have diarrhoea on waking. If you regularly have problems with constipation, bulk-forming agents may help.

If you have psychological symptoms such as anxiety in addition to irritable bowel syndrome, you should ask your doctor to refer you to a therapist for advice on how to control anxiety.

Irritable bowel syndrome tends to be a long term disorder, often lasting into old age. However, attacks usually become less frequent and severe with time.


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