Irritable Bowel Syndrome affects around 20% of Americans, and Iritable Bowel Syndrome, up until now, has been an incurable bowel condition, with the focus being on managing symptoms as best as one can.
I say Irritable Bowel Syndrome was basically incurable up until now, as new research that has come out in April, 2009, is changing that view. These new findings for Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be found in the diet section of Irritable Bowel Treatments below.
As well, I’ve added another section detailing how my wife resolves the sudden pain onset symptom of irritable bowel syndrome, through leaning and squatting. The description of this technique is given in the section immediately below the diet section for irritable bowel syndrome treatment.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
As I am a doctor, many of my friends have asked me about Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, or irritable bowel, thinking that they might have it.
When I’ve asked them why they think they have irritable bowel syndrome, it often seems that they’ve heard about it without really knowing what irritable bowel syndrome is.
This article is going to give a description of what IBS is and what it isn’t, as well as some of the treatments for irritable bowel syndrome, and a little look at how irritable bowel syndrome can cause hemorrhoids.
Why is Irritable Bowel a Syndrome?
A syndrome is the medical term for a group of symptoms that often seem to go together.
It isn’t quite the same as a disease, essentially because a disease is usually better understood in terms of the cause of the symptoms.
For example, if we didn’t know about the cold virus, then the symptoms of a sore throat, runny nose and mild fever might be called something like ‘Irritated Nose Syndrome’.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a group of symptoms that, although readily identifiable, do not seem to have a physical cause in the intestine that has yet been pinned down by scientists.
With irritable bowel syndrome there is no change in the structure of the cells, and no known biological agent such as a bacteria or an allergen.
Irritable bowel syndrome isn’t quite the same as a disease, which isn’t to claim it isn’t serious or that it won’t in the future turn out to have an identifiable cause, just that the exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome isn’t understood yet.
What are the Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are:
A change in bowel habit, which can either be constipation or diarrhoea or an alternating pattern between the two.
Along with possible abdominal pain;
and or tension and bloating;
and or the feeling that even after voiding your bowels there is still something left (which is referred to as incomplete defecation or tenesmus);
and or a sudden, desperate need to void your bowels (urgency).
These irritable bowel syndrome changes are long term ones, and can come and go repeatedly throughout a sufferer’s life.
By long term, I mean over a period of around six months or longer. This is to help separate irritable bowel syndrome from other diseases that can have the same symptoms.
You do not qualify for a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome until you’ve had the symptoms that long.
There’s an ABC for the diagnosis – if you have one of Abdominal pain/discomfort, Bloating and Change in bowel habit, and you’ve had them for at least six months, then irritable bowel syndrome is a possible diagnosis.
There are other signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome too.
The abdominal pain is often relieved once you’ve been to the loo, and you may find that eating generally makes it worse.
If this is true, it’s well worth keeping a record of what you’ve been eating to see if there is something setting it off, although there may not be.
It’s also been found that patients who have irritable bowel syndrome diagnosed are more likely to have problems with lethargy, sickness, may report backaches or headaches, may also have symptoms involving their bladder, may experience pain on having sex (dyspareunia), and may have faecal incontinence.
But most of all of these other symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome aren’t likely to be mentioned by the patient initially, as few of them will link it in their own minds to the primary symptoms.
Doctors often ask seemingly irrelevant questions to whatever it is you’ve come to ask them about. I went in to have my GP sort out a painful boil on my cheek, and the first thing he asked was ‘do you have diabetes?’ I know why he was asking that (diabetics often get infections in their skin), but even so, it did surprise me as an opening gambit!
But doctors are trained to gather information to support their suspicions through asking direct questions like this, so if you are reporting symptoms that may be irritable bowel syndrome, don’t be surprised if you get asked about some of these other signs and symptoms too.
There is also evidence to suggest that irritable bowel syndrome is linked in some way to the brain, as there is often a history of ongoing stress, worry or even psychological illness in IBS sufferers. Anxiety and depression are both factors that influence or trigger irritable bowel syndrome.
Irritable bowel syndrome is what is called a ‘diagnosis of exclusion’.
This means that, because the exact causes of irritable bowel syndrome aren’t known, there is no specific test to tell you whether you have it or not.
Instead, you have to rule out the other things that irritable bowel syndrome could mimic, and if you have none of those other things, then you can make a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome.
There are, as you can imagine from symptoms like constipation and diarrhoea, rather a lot of other things irritable bowel syndrome could be mistasken for! Especially if you take into account that irritable bowel syndrome symptoms can have a sudden onset, like infections do.
Due to the above, irritable bowel syndrome isn’t always an easy diagnosis to make, and may involve a number of screening tests.
How is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Treated?
As the cause of irritable bowel syndrome isn’t well understood, it’s quite hard to find specific treatments for irritable bowel syndrome.
Anti-spasmodic drugs as an irritable bowel syndrome treatment
One of the most unpleasant symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can be the crampy, spasming pain that accompanies bowel movements, so it is not uncommon for patients to be given an anti-spasmodic drug to help ease this.
Diet as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome
With irritable bowel syndrome there is much you can do to treat yourself, too, with dietary changes.
If you are experiencing the constipation type of irritable bowel syndrome, it can be wise to increase your intake of dietary fiber, and vice versa for the diarrohea – cut back on it while the symptoms are bad. It may be that you have to continuously alter you diet to deal with the fluctuating symptoms.
Unless you’ve been given specific advice from a dietician, it probably isn’t worth cutting foodstuffs out of your diet. If you really think there is something causing the symptoms, fair enough, but that means it probably isn’t irritable bowel syndrome. You could try keeping a food diary, recording everything you eat in a day and recording whether the symptoms occur or not to see if there is a link, but it’s worth asking advice on this first, as altering your diet isn’t a simple or easy thing to achieve correctly.
Probiotics: Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 is a must have Treatment for IBS – Added by Donald, April, 2009.
Darren. M Brenner, et al, 2009, believed that irritable bowel syndrome was an intestinal reaction to certain microflora occuring in unhealthy levels – microflora being bacterias and so on. He and his colleagues then did a review of the research on the use of probiotics (good microflora) as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. The finding was that there was only one probiotic that actually had a very positive effect on Irritable bowel syndrome: Bifidobacterium infantis 35624. All other probiotics did essentially nothing for the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 is able to treat the irritable bowel symptoms of abdominal discomfort, such as pain and bloating, as well as have a very positive effect on stopping the irritable bowel problems of constipation, diarrhea, wind/gas and having to rush for a wee (urgency).
Contortion of the abdominal area, can also be a treatment for the sudden onset of pain which is often an irritable bowel syndrome symptom – Added by Donald, April, 2009.
Some years ago, my wife sufferred intolerably from sudden pain in her abdomen – diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, and sudden onset abdominal pain is a symptom of irritable bowel syndrome.
In the process of contorting her body to try and control the pain, she realised that if she got into a certain position, she would hear a pop, and the pain would immediately subside. Essentially, she would squat real low, and lean drastically to one side, or lean from side to side.
This isn’t a cure, but it helps to have a quick and handy solution to the sudden onset pain, which can be debilitating and take some time to pass.
Laxatives and antidiarrhea drugs as a irritable bowel syndrome treament
If maintaining a normal bowel habit is proving hard with irritable bowel syndrome, the prescription of either laxatives or something to calm diarrhoea (like an anti-motility drug called loperamide) may be given to provide relief. Don’t do this at home without checking with a doctor!
Drugs that alter your bowel habit, especially laxatives, can have serious long-term consequences. In fact, taking too many laxatives over time can actually produce symptoms very similar to irritable bowel syndrome, and should be avoided.
Behavioural therapies, antidepressant medications as treatments for irritable bowel syndrome
If none of the above works over a long term period to help your irritable bowel syndrome, studies show that patients can respond tobehavioural therapies, which help reduce anxiety or depression, or even antidepressant medications.
But this is a second line of treatments for irritable bowel syndrome that may or may not always be appropriate – don’t expect to get them, but be reassured that if the first treatments don’t work out there are other things to try.
It’s also important to note that your doctor isn’t giving you antidepressants because he thinks you’re imagining the symptoms or making them up, or because it’s all in your head – patients with irritable bowel syndrome have been shown to genuinely respond to these treatments, although it’s very hard to say why exactly that is.
What won’t help my irritable bowel syndrome?
There is currently very little evidence that taking Aloe Vera will have any effect on irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.
Similarly, the evidence for taking herbal or alternative therapies for irritable bowel syndrome isn’t very clear, and there isn’t a lot of good evidence to say they work well.
It may be that they work wonders for your irritable bowel syndrome, but the way they work isn’t well understood, and from what research has been done, it doesn’t look like they do much to help many people with irritable bowel syndrome.
Here in the UK, there are lots of TV adverts for yoghurts that contain living bacterial cultures, and all these adverts extol the virtues of the yoghurts for promoting healthy guts and reducing bloating and distension.
Whilst it’s true that keeping a healthy amount of normal gut bacteria is important, there is very little clinical evidence (or very little evidence that wasn’t sponsored by the makers of the yoghurts, at any rate) that proves they help irritable bowel syndrome sufferers much.
The same is true of other probiotics (that’s the opposite of an antibiotic, something that promotes bacterial growth), and many doctors feel that any positive effects on irritable bowel syndrome are a placebo result, and not a genuine improvement due to the product actually doing something for your irritable bowel syndrome.
What else might irritable bowel syndrome be?
The presentation of irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhoea can be very similar to certain food intolerances, notably celiac disease, which is an intolerance to chemicals in wheat.
Irritable bowel syndrome can also look, in the short term, like a bowel infection or the diarrhoea caused by a recent course of antibiotics.
The early symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases like Chrohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis may also produce similar diarrhoea.
If, on the other hand, it’s the presentation of constipation, it’s important to know what’s in your diet, especially if you’ve changed it recently, and what drugs you may be taking that might cause these symptoms.
Abdominal pain can have many other causes, like gallstones or a long-term inflammation of the pancreas (chronic pancreatitis), stomach ulcers and heartburn (or reflux, depending on how you know it).
Diverticular disease, which is a common problem linked to increasing age and western diets, may also be a factor.
If your bowel habit has suddenly changed, but you have some of the symptoms listed below, you should go and see your doctor and discuss them, as they may require further investigation.
Unexplained weight loss
A lump in the abdomen
A history in the family of ovarian or bowel cancer
It’s also important to go and consult a doctor if you are over 60 and are experiencing a sudden alteration in your bowel habit.
The Hemorrhoid Link
Well, the good news is there is no specific link between getting a hemorrhoid and irritable bowel syndrome.
Unfortunately, if you’re having the constipation type of irritable bowel syndrome, the extra straining to pass stool can cause hemorrhoids, or make pre-existing hemorrhoids worse.
There’s no special treatment or advice to give here, though, other than to treat your hemorrhoids as you normally would, and you’ll find much advice on how to do that elsewhere on this website.
Main write by Dr. James D. Hogg, (BSc Oxon, MBBS & BA Hons), medical doctor, and minor rewrite by D S Urquhart.
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