What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is a common gastrointestinal disorder that affects the large intestine (colon). It is a chronic condition characterized by recurring abdominal pain, discomfort, and changes in bowel habits. IBS is a functional disorder, meaning there are no structural abnormalities or visible signs of disease in the digestive tract.

While the exact cause of IBS is unknown, it is believed to involve a combination of factors, including abnormal muscle contractions in the intestines, heightened sensitivity to pain, and disturbances in the communication between the brain and the gut.

Causes and Triggers of IBS:

The exact causes of IBS are not fully understood. However, several factors can contribute to the development and exacerbation of symptoms.

These include:

  • Gut-Brain Dysfunction: There may be disruptions in the communication between the brain and the gut, leading to abnormal sensations and motility in the intestines.
  • Abnormal Intestinal Contractions: Individuals with IBS may experience stronger or weaker contractions in the colon, affecting the movement of stool through the digestive tract.
  • Food Sensitivities: Certain foods and beverages, such as fatty foods, dairy products, caffeine, and alcohol, can trigger or worsen IBS symptoms.
  • Stress and Emotional Factors: Psychological stress, anxiety, and depression can impact the functioning of the digestive system, exacerbating IBS symptoms.
  • Changes in Gut Microbiota: Imbalances in the gut microbiome, the community of bacteria in the digestive system, may play a role in IBS development.

Symptoms of IBS:

The symptoms of IBS can vary from person to person and may fluctuate over time.

Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort: Typically, this pain is relieved by having a bowel movement.
  • Altered bowel habits: This can manifest as diarrhea, constipation, or both (alternating between the two).
  • Changes in stool consistency: Stools may be hard and lumpy or loose and watery.
  • Bloating and abdominal distension: Many individuals with IBS experience bloating, which is often relieved after passing gas or having a bowel movement.
  • Urgency and incomplete evacuation: Feelings of urgency to have a bowel movement, even when the bowel is empty, or a sense of incomplete evacuation after a bowel movement.

Dietary Modifications:

  • Identify and avoid trigger foods that worsen symptoms.
  • Consider a low-FODMAP diet under the guidance of a registered dietitian.
  • Ensure adequate fiber intake through foods or supplements.