IBS – irritable bowel syndrome (also called irritable colon or spastic colitis) is a common disorder that affects the large intestine. Signs and symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation, or both. IBS is a chronic condition that needs to be managed long term. There is no cure for the disease; however, there are medicines that can relieve the symptoms.
In case of IBS, the function of the gastrointestinal tract is disrupted, but the causes are not entirely clear. It seems to be a combination of several factors with both physiological and physical explanations. IBS usually causes more trouble during periods, not least in connection with stress or emotional imbalance. Some types of food can also aggravate the symptoms of IBS, such as difficult-to-digest carbohydrates and high-fat or spicy foods.
IBS can cause many different symptoms. An upset stomach, diarrhea or constipation are common; some get both hard and loose stools because the intestine has difficulty controlling the consistency. Gas formation in the bowel usually leads to abdominal pain in the upper abdomen on the left or right side. Pain often comes after eating and decreases after emptying the bowel.
These are the most common symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- diarrhea or constipation
- tense stomach and stomach gas
- mucus in the stool
- incomplete bowel emptying.
Diarrhea can affect your everyday life – you may need to be always near a toilet. The symptoms can come and go, but IBS is usually something you have to learn to live with. Sensitivity of the gastrointestinal tract can also be caused by peptic ulcer or nausea and vomiting.
Bear in mind that abdominal pain, stomach gas, diarrhea or constipation do not necessarily mean that you have IBS. The stomach is sensitive and can respond to variations in diet, stress and other everyday external factors. These problems are usually transient, whereas IBS gives long-term symptoms.
Prevention and protection
Many people feel better if they eat smaller portions several times a day – a common advice for handling various gastrointestinal problems. Try to keep a food diary so that you understand what your stomach is sensitive to. Healthy lifestyle habits usually relieve symptoms – exercise, sleep well and balance in everyday life.
Here’s how you can relieve IBS symptoms:
- chew your food properly and eat slowly, in a calm environment
- try to empty your bowel regularly
- avoid stress
- exercise regularly.
At pharmacies, there are non-prescription drugs that can help with diarrhea, stomach gas and constipation.
It can be good to avoid:
- fatty and spicy food
- fiber food
- gas-producing foods
- lactose and gluten
- coffee, sweeteners and carbonated drinks
- alcohol and smoking.
Research has shown that the symptoms of IBS are alleviated with a diet called FODMAP, whereby you reduce the intake of carbohydrates that are difficult to absorb.
There are no specific tests to determine IBS. However, you may undergo a medical examination that may determine other causes for your upset stomach. As a rule, this involves blood and stool tests as well as an examination of the intestine with the help of lower gastrointestinal series (A lower GI series is a procedure in which a doctor uses x-rays and a chalky liquid called barium to view your large intestine.)
There are no medicines that cure IBS; however, there are medicines that can relieve your symptoms. Various psychological treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and conscious presence, can also ease symptoms and make it easier to live with IBS.
When to consult a doctor
Contact your doctor if you suspect you have IBS, to make sure you get a proper diagnosis (it may be another illness causing your symptoms). You can also consult a dietician who can help with the change of diet.
You should also get medical help if you have had stomach gas and altered stools for more than two weeks, especially if you are over 50 and have not had any problems in the past or experience weight loss, which cannot be explained by diet.
If you have acute pain, bloody vomiting, black or bloody stools, you should get urgent care.
How APPOTEK can help
APPOTEK can help you with IBS. During the initial consultation, a nurse or doctor will make an individual assessment based on your symptoms. You may then be prescribed medicine or referred for further treatment. A physical examination is often required if an upset stomach is accompanied by abdominal pain. If your child has a problem, he or she may need a physical examination.