Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that affects the large intestine or colon. It is the most common gastrointestinal disorder, affecting about 13 to 20 percent of Canadians.
IBS causes The cause of IBS is unknown but theories link the disorder to food sensitivities, stress and gastrointestinal infection. IBS can start in childhood, adolescence or adulthood and may resolve for periods throughout a person’s life. The condition occurs more in women and people with a family history.
IBS symptoms Abdominal cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation are common symptoms of IBS. Many people only have mild symptoms but the condition can be debilitating when symptoms interfere with everyday life. Changes in bowel habits may also be a sign of Crohn’s or colorectal cancer.
IBS diagnosis/tests Don’t try to diagnose yourself since conditions other than IBS could be causing your symptoms. Talk to your doctor who will ask you questions about what you’re experiencing to see if they have a pattern that can be linked to IBS. If your doctor suspects that another gastrointestinal illness is causing your symptoms, she may order more medical tests.
IBS treatment Controlling IBS is possible through diet and lifestyle changes.
• Certain foods, such as dairy products, chocolate or some fruits may worsen symptoms. Avoiding those trigger foods may help improve the condition. Doctors may also suggest other diet strategies, such as eliminating foods that produce gas, such as beans or carbonated beverages.
• Eating at regular times to regulate bowel function may help lessen symptoms.
• Several medications treat IBS, including anti-diarrheals, antibiotics and anti-depressants.
IBS prevention While you cannot prevent IBS, it may be possible to prevent some of your symptoms which may worsen or occur more frequently during times of stress. Look for ways to reduce stress by exercising regularly, doing relaxation and breathing exercises or biofeedback to reduce muscle tension and seeing a counselor to work on strategies to reduce stressors in your life.
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