Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional bowel
disorder characterized by intermittent abdominal cramps,
diarrhea, constipation, gas and bloating. The bowel is the
part of the digestive system that makes and stores stool. It is not a disease but only a functional disorder whereby the bowels donít function as they should. It is also referred as spastic colon, muscle colitis, spastic colitis, or irritable colon. It causes discomfort and distress, which can be controlled with diet, stress management, medications and alternative therapies. It is estimated that over 20 million people have IBS and two thirds of the patients are female. The exact cause of IBS is not clear. There is no cure for IBS but there are several ways to feel better and treat the symptoms. Normal motility of colon may not be present in IBS. Similarly colon may respond strongly to stimuli such as certain foods or stress. In general large meals, medicines, milk products, alcohol, caffeine, stress and menstruation period are found to be associated with worsening symptoms in IBS. It is not contagious, inherited or cancerous but it can interrupt a personís daily life. IBS can be diagnosed either by physical examinations, blood tests, x-ray of the bowel, or endoscopies.
The signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome may vary from person to person and the condition of severity. The main symptoms of IBS are as followings:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Change in frequency and appearance of bowel movements
- Mucus in stool
- Feeling of uncontrollable urgency to have a bowel movement
- Painful Diarrhea and Constipation (may aggravate hemorrhoids)
- Gas (flatulence)
- Feeling like you havenít finished a bowel movement
Although there is no cure for the irritable bowel syndrome, most people can control their symptoms by taking medication, diet changes, reducing stress, nutritional supplements, etc. Medications like laxatives (to treat constipation), antispasmodics (to slow contractions in the bowel and helps with diarrhea and pain), and antidepressants (to help to relieve severe pain) are commonly used in IBS. These medications, however, contain a mild sedative and can also make a person habitual and dependent. Fiber supplements such as psyllium or methylcellulose with fluids may help control constipation. Psyllium is a good source of soluble fiber. Fibrous foods like bread, cereal, beans, fruits, vegetables, etc. are useful as they make stool soft, bulky and easier to pass. Medication, yoga, massage, exercise, hypnotherapy, and counseling are some alternative ways to make feel better in IBS. Eating smaller meal & low fat and carbohydrate diet and drinking plenty of water are helpful.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that use of traditional Chinese herbs are effective in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Zinger is used to aid in digestion, treat upset stomach and prevent nausea. Peppermint Oil is natural antispasmodic and helps to relax the smooth muscles in the intestine. Similarly fennel seed is used to relieve spasm of the gastrointestinal tract and flatulaence. Flaxseed acts as mild laxative and is useful for chronic constipation. Aloe Vera supplements are also used as a laxative.
Usage of probiotic supplements like lactobacillus, acidophilus and bifidobacterium are believed to cure the condition in IBS. They can decrease the amount of bacteria with gas-producing abilities and relieve IBS symptoms such as abdominal distention and flatulence. Probiotics help to restore healthy balance of bacteria in the gut. Vitamin-C supplement is an excellent immune booster for the remedy of constipation. Nowadays varieties of colon cleansing products, fiber supplements, vitamin and mineral supplements and digestive enzymes are available in the market that is believed to be an effective and helpful for the treatment of IBS.
- Bensoussan A, Talley NJ, Hing M, Menzies R, Guo A, Ngu M.
Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome with Chinese herbal medicine.
JAMA 1998; 280(18): 1585-1589.
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases /pubs/ibs/index.htm
- International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (http://www.aboutibs.org/index.html)
- http://altmedicine.about.com/cs/ digestiveproblems/a/IBS_1.htm
- http://www.medicinenet.com/irritable_bowel_ syndrome/article.htm
- Thompson J.P. (2001). Natural Remedies That Work:
Irritabel Bowel Syndrome. Caramal Publishing.