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What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

irritable bowel syndrome ibsIrritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS for short, is quite common and affects 3 to 20 percent of the population. However, not everyone sees a doctor for this disorder so numbers may be higher than reported. IBS is a disorder of the Gastrointestinal Tract and is not a disease, but is compromised of a variety of symptoms. 

The disorder affects your large intestine but it does not cause any permanent damage to it.

Signs and Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Common signs of IBS are abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation. Suffers of IBS may also notice a change in their bowel habits such as going more often, or less often or feeling as though their bowel movement was 'incomplete'. They may even pass a clear mucus which is made to protect the GI Tract.

Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrom (IBS)

There are many potential causes of IBS and the disorder is still not fully understood by medical practitioners.

Brain-gut signal problems: If there are problems with how the brain signals the gut it can cause changes in bowel habits and pain/discomfort. 

GI Motor Problems: In someone who has different movements in their colon, they may experience IBS symptoms. Faster movements (spasms) can lead to diarrhea while slower movements can lead to constipation.

Hypersensitivity: For whatever reason, someone with IBS may have lower pain thresholds and when they need to pass gas or stools it may signal the brain differently.

Mental Health Problems: Still not fully understood, but those who have mental health problems often experience signs of IBS. Suffers or Depression, Panic Disorder, Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress as well as those who have experienced past physical or sexual abuse are at risk for IBS.

Bacterial Gastroenteritis: A bacteria found in the stomach and intestines can lead to IBS, though not all people affected by this bacteria do develop IBS. It may be the difference in the GI tract lining that causes some to be more vulnerable than others.

Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth: It is normal to have some bacteria in the small intestine however in some instances there is an overgrowth which had been reported to lead to excess gas, diarrhea and weight loss.

Body Chemicals: Changes in the body's chemistry (say during a women's menstrual cycle) can aggravate and promote conditions like IBS.

Food Sensitivity: Certain foods and drinks have been reported to aggravate IBS symptoms. Although studies do not show these people had allergies to those food items, it may be a matter of the body not having the right tools to break down/process the foods which leads to IBS symptoms.  Greasy, spicy, processed and fatty foods are often avoided by IBS sufferers as are caffeine, alcohol and pop beverages.

Complications of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

While there aren't any noted health risks with having IBS, it can be harmful to your social life for a variety of reasons. The stress of being away from your home (and privacy of your own washroom) may influence your social decisions. Since it may be uncomfortable, having sexual relations may also be unappealing for you during flare-ups.

Depending on how often you are needing to go to the washroom, your backside may be quite sore and cause you discomfort. Hemorrhoids are often a result of IBS. Likely one of the most embarrassing issues to bring up, hemorrhoids can cause incredible discomfort and can lead to serious infections. 

Other Considerations 

It's important to remember that there may be other reasons why you are experiencing these issues. While it can be an embarrassing issue, your doctor is there to help you and you should seek medical advice if your problem persists. Other serious diseases like Irritable Bowel Disease, Crohn's Disease, Ulcerative Colitis and Colon Cancer can be causes for your symptoms and must be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

Natural Treatments for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

You should always seek medical advice for any condition that does not go away after a bit of time, if only to rule out a more serious situation. However, there are natural remedies and treatments you can use for IBS to help you feel better and help minimize flare-ups.

  • Diet - Try a bland diet and eat smaller, lighter meals. If you are constipated, trying drinking more water and eat more fibre-rich foods. If you are suffering from diarrhea, eat foods like rice or Chia seeds to help absorption.
  • Sitz Baths - These are baths in which you sit your lower end into a basin of water to relax (instead of having full baths.) You can use Epsom salts in the water and have these baths a few times a day.
  • Acupuncture - Believing in the treatment to the body as a whole, acupuncture may help get your body back in form and working as it should.
  • Herbs - Certain teas are good for your digestive tract including Chammomile, Peppermint and Ginger.
  • Probiotics - This is the 'good' bacteria we need in our intestines. Adding 1-3 capsules a day during mealtimes may help the body digest and counter the bad bacteria, thus alleviating the IBS symptoms.
  • Exercise - While the last thing you may feel like doing during a flare-up is exercise, it can be very helpful to relax your muscles and promote good blood flow. Start slowing until you feel better and work into a regular routine. Try yoga, meditation or even walking or cycling.
  • Naturopath - You may wish to see a naturopath who can advise you on some dietary changes and possible herbsl to incorporate into your diet for better absorption of food.

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