Irritable Bowel

Irritable Bowel

Definition of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The Irritable bowel syndrome is a common intestinal condition. Usually people are embarrassed about the disease and prefer not talking about it. The Irritable bowel syndrome is characterized by gassiness; bloating; abdominal cramps; extremes of bowel movements like constipation or diarrhea.  There is no known cure for Irritable bowel syndrome.


Irritable Bowel Syndromecauses a great deal of discomfort and distress, but it does not permanently harm the intestines and does not lead to a serious disease, such as cancer. Most people can control their symptoms with diet, stress management, and prescribed medications. For some people, however, Irritable Bowel Syndrome> can be disabling. They may be unable to work, attend social events, or even travel short distances.

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As many as 20 percent of the adult population, or one in five Americans, have symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome>, making it one of the most common disorders diagnosed by doctors. It occurs more often in women than in men, and it begins before the age of 35 in about 50 percent of people.

One in every five American adult suffers from the Irritable bowel syndrome. However, fortunately it is only in a few cases that the symptoms are very severe. Unlike more serious intestinal problems such as Crohn's disease, the Irritable bowel syndrome shows no inflammation neither does it increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome often vary from patient to patient and may at times be common to other diseases.   Some people have constipation, which means hard, difficult-to-pass, or infrequent bowel movements. Often these people report straining and cramping when trying to have a bowel movement but cannot eliminate any stool, or they are able to eliminate only a small amount. If they are able to have a bowel movement, there may be mucus in it, which is a fluid that moistens and protect passages in the digestive system. Some people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome> experience diarrhea, which is frequent, loose, watery, stools. People with diarrhea frequently feel an urgent and uncontrollable need to have a bowel movement. Other people with IBS alternate between constipation and diarrhea. Sometimes people find that their symptoms subside for a few months and then return, while others report a constant worsening of symptoms over time.

Some common symptoms noticed in those who have Irritable bowel syndrome are:

  • A sensation like a golf ball in the throat between meals, but does not interfere with swallowing.
  • Heartburn - burning pain often felt behind the breastbone.
  • Painful swallowing (odynophagia), but without hold-up of food.
  • Sticking of food (dysphagia) - this requires investigation.


  • Non-ulcer dyspepsia (symptoms suggestive of a stomach or duodenal ulcer, but which has not been confirmed on investigation).
  • Feeling full after small meals. This may reach the stage of not being able to finish a meal.
  • Abdominal bloating after meals.

Small bowel

  • Increased gurgling noises which may be loud enough to cause social embarrassment (borborygmi).
  • Severe abdominal bloating and generalised abdominal tenderness associated with bloating.

Large bowel

  • Right-sided abdominal pain, either low or tucked up under the right ribs. Does not always get better after passing a stool.
  • Pain tucked up under the left ribs (splenic flexure syndrome). When the pain is bad, it may enter the left armpit.
  • Variable and erratic bowel habits alternating from constipation to diarrhoea
  • Flatulence (excess wind).
  • Increased gastro-colic reflex. This is an awakening of the childhood reflex where food in the stomach stimulates colonic activity, resulting in the need to pass a stool.
  • Severe, short stabbing pains in the rectum, called proctalgia fugax.

Other symptoms

  • Headaches.
  • In women, left-sided abdominal pain pain during sex.
  • Passing urine more often.
  • Fatigue and tiredness.
  • Sleep disturbance.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea.
  • Depressive symptoms in about a third of patients.
  • Anxiety and stress-related symptoms, which may interact with gut symptoms.

The symptoms of Irritable bowel syndrome vary from person to person and treatment also varies depending on the stage of the disease. Sometimes the symptoms can be severe and at other times they can be mild.

Since the symptoms of Irritable bowel syndrome are often similar to that of other diseases, a doctor might be able to give you correct advice regarding treatment based on the patient’s condition.  At times, timely treatment can completely wipe away the symptoms of the Irritable bowel syndrome, though cure is rare.


Types of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

There are three main types of Irritable bowel syndrome these include:

Irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea - This type of the disease is associated with frequent bowel movements, stomach pain, urgent need to move your bowels and watery stool.

Irritable bowel syndrome with constipation - This type of the disease is associated with bloating, stomach pain, delayed or infrequent bowel movements and hard stool.   

Irritable bowel syndrome with alternating constipation and diarrhea – This is a combination of the two mentioned above.

Cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Researchers have yet to discover any specific cause for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. One theory is that people who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome have a colon, or large intestine, that is particularly sensitive and reactive to certain foods and stress. The immune system, which fights infection, may also be involved.

The food we consume passes through different stages of digestion. Food is changed into liquid in the stomach through the small intestine.  Food goes through the digestive system by means of peristalsis, which is affected in the form of wave-like movements caused by muscles in the digestive system. Peristalsis in the colon (intestine) occurs after meals.

Those with Irritable bowel syndrome experience peristalsis in unusual patterns. Sometimes these symptoms go on for extended periods of time, or at times slower than normal. In the first case, watery solids are passed continuously to the rectum, resulting in diarrhea. In the second case, dry solids are passed on to the rectum, resulting in constipation. In the Irritable bowel syndrome the colon does not function normally. Certain food like caffeine, chocolate, large consumption of alcohol and milk products lead to Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Normal motility, or movement, may not be present in the colon of a person who has Irritable bowel syndrome. It can be spasmodic or can even stop working temporarily. Spasms are sudden strong muscle contractions that come and go.

The lining of the colon called the epithelium, which is affected by the immune and nervous systems, regulates the flow of fluids in and out of the colon. In Irritable bowel syndrome, the epithelium appears to work properly. However, when the contents inside the colon move too quickly, the colon loses its ability to absorb fluids. The result is too much fluid in the stool. In other people, the movement inside the colon is too slow, which causes extra fluid to be absorbed. As a result, a person develops constipation.

A person’s colon may respond strongly to stimuli such as certain foods or stress that would not bother most people.

Recent research has reported that serotonin is linked with normal gastrointestinal (GI) functioning. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, or chemical, that delivers messages from one part of your body to another. Ninety-five percent of the serotonin in your body is located in the GI tract, and the other 5 percent is found in the brain. Cells that line the inside of the bowel work as transporters and carry the serotonin out of the GI tract. People with Irritable bowel syndrome, however, have diminished receptor activity, causing abnormal levels of serotonin to exist in the GI tract. As a result, they experience problems with bowel movement, motility, and sensation—having more sensitive pain receptors in their GI tract.

Researchers have reported that Irritable bowel syndrome may be caused by a bacterial infection in the gastrointestinal tract. Studies show that people who have had gastroenteritis sometimes develop Irritable bowel syndrome, otherwise called post-infectious Irritable bowel syndrome.

Researchers have also found very mild celiac disease in some people with symptoms similar to Irritable bowel syndrome. People with celiac disease cannot digest gluten, a substance found in wheat, rye, and barley. People with celiac disease cannot eat these foods without becoming very sick because their immune system responds by damaging the small intestine.

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