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Irritable Bowel Syndrome – a Disorder of Many

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common condition, affecting millions of people, older than 20. Women are likely to suffer from it more often than men: 60-65% of individuals with IBS are female. Usually patients report of the mild symptoms (in 75% of cases), which do not interfere with the normal life rhythm. 25% of sufferers are affected with moderate symptoms of the disorder, and only 5% suffer from the chronic form of the condition, reporting about severe symptoms.

To start with, IBS is defined as a functional disorder, not a disease. It means that the bowel doesn't work properly, but the condition causes neither inflammation, nor changes in the bowel tissue, nor the increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Irritable bowel syndrome affects the large intestine – the part of the digestive system that makes and stores stool (we also call it “bowel”). Its nerves and muscles become extra-sensitive and react contracting too much when a person eats or when the bowel is stretched due to gas or bloating.

The main symptoms of IBS are cramps, pain in the abdomen, constipation or diarrhea (some people can experience both conditions, in alteration). The abdominal pain is usually relieved with a bowel movement. Other symptoms include mucus in the stool, swollen or bloated abdomen, and the feeling of an unfinished bowel movement.

The exact causes of IBS are not known. However, there are three main hypotheses, suggested by the scientists: the central nervous system may affect the colon, causing its dysfunction; the work of nerves that control muscle contractions and sensitivity may be changed; and hormonal changes may provoke IBS (this explains why women suffer from the given condition more often, especially during periods).

People, predisposed to IBS should know the possible triggers of the disorder. The first one is the kind and amount of food one consumes. Overeating, fatty foods and such products as milk, chocolate, alcohol often cause changes in the normal function of the digestive system. Stress, being not the actual cause of IBS, may at the same time be the reason for the worsening of its symptoms in people with this condition. Finally, some other illnesses may result in IBS.

The first step on the way of getting rid of IBS is dietary plan changes. They will include avoiding foods and drinks that provoke the symptoms. A diary with a description of amount and kind of foods consumed as well as the time, duration, and symptoms of IBS can be of great help.

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Pharmacologic therapy is used in people with moderate to severe IBS symptoms and usually includes drugs to treat the most disabling or bothersome sign; therefore, it mainly depends on the situation. Some may be prescribed anti-diarrheal medications; others may need antidepressants or anticholinergic medications (drugs, which affect the activity of the central nervous system).

It is worthy to note that currently there exist two drugs specifically for IBS treatment. They are alosetron (Lotronex) and tegaserod (Zelnorm). These medications are available only by prescription due to their severe and dangerous side effects, thus they must be used under the constant control of a doctor.

Finally, working in a partnership with a physician, counseling and education in the sphere of the risk factors and triggers of IBS helps many people.


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