Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Today we're talking about one of the last taboo subjects: a bowel movement
disorder called Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS. Much more common in women
than men, this is a relatively common syndrome of abdominal discomfort or pain,
bloating, and changes in bowel habits. The pain or cramping can be a dull ache
over one or several areas of the abdomen. For some women, it can be intolerable
and without relief. Some people with IBS suffer from constipation, others from
diarrhea, and some have bouts of both.
Up to 20 percent of all U.S. adults are affected by IBS, which involves an
abnormality of the muscular action that passes food along the colon, as well
as an increased sensitivity of the nerves in the colon. The syndrome can affect
men and women of all ages, but it most often strikes the young and female. IBS
generally first appears in people in their 20s to 40s, and women are roughly
three times more likely than men to suffer from it. Women with IBS seem to have
more symptoms during their periods, suggesting that reproductive hormones may
play a role. IBS has other symptoms as well: constant fatigue or feeling tired,
and even depression.
"Syndrome" refers to a collection of symptoms, not just one or two.
In fact, IBS isn't a disease; it is considered a "functional disorder":
it can strike otherwise healthy people. The causes are multiple: biologic, psychologic
and social factors can all contribute. IBS is indeed irritable, often causing
a great deal of discomfort and distress. But the good news is that the syndrome
does not cause permanent harm to the intestines, it doesn't lead to intestinal
bleeding, and it doesn't cause cancer or inflammatory bowel disease (such as
Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis). Moreover, if you have IBS, you may not
suffer all the time: some people can go for weeks or months with no symptoms.
Others may experience symptoms daily. Also, it is possible -- by paying attention
to the triggers of your symptoms -- that you can modify your diet, make lifestyle
changes to reduce stress, and use medication to reduce these symptoms. Other good news: there are now two prescription medicines available to treat IBS. One is for patients with constipation-predominant symptoms and one is for patients with diarrhea-predominant symptoms.
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Created: 5/7/2001  - Donnica Moore, M.D.