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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Updated: Nov 19, 2023

Pacifica Digestive Health Patient Education - Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Dr. Ken D. Nguyen is a gastroenterologist at Pacifica Digestive Health. He is also the President and was one of the co-founders of Pacifica Digestive Health. His clinical interests include screening and management of gastric cancer in Asian patients, viral hepatitis (including hepatitis B and hepatitis C), advanced liver disease and cirrhosis, colon cancer screening, and international medicine.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), also referred to as spastic colon, a disorder that affects the large intestine. This gastrointestinal disorder comes with both common symptoms as well as more severe symptoms. The most common symptoms are easily manageable whereas severe cases will require that you visit with a doctor. Most people are able to control their symptoms with changes to their diet, lifestyle, and by managing their stress levels.

Signs and Symptoms

The most common symptoms IBS include abdominal pain, increased / excess gas, bloating, cramping, food intolerance, mucus in your stool, as well as diarrhea and/or constipation. Symptoms can sometimes be exacerbated after eating or by certain food, and may improve after having a bowel movement. Some people have more diarrhea while other have more constipation. There are others who may have both diarrhea and constipation. Many people have these symptoms for years and some are able to cope with it.

On the other hand, symptoms that are not commonly seen with IBS include rectal bleeding, weight loss, anemia, difficulty swallowing, unexplained vomiting, persistent abdominal pain, and having symptoms at night. If you have any of these symptoms, you should seek care from a doctor as it may be signs of other more serious gastrointestinal disorders.

Possible Causes

The exact cause of IBS is not known. However, it is thought to be due to multiple factors. The following play a major role in IBS.

Muscle contractions in the intestine that last longer than expected will lead to bloating, cause gas, as well as lead to diarrhea. In addition, weak contractions lead to slow food passage which in turn leads to hard stool.

Another possible cause is a case is previous gastrointestinal infection. After a severe case of diarrhea caused by bacteria or a virus in the intestine, you may develop this disorder. Bacterial overgrowth where there is a surplus of bacteria in the intestine will also cause symptoms of IBS.

Change of the composition of bacteria in the gut will also lead to this disorder. Keep in mind that the intestine comes with good bacteria that ensure you remain healthy. An alteration to this will lead to IBS.

Common Triggers and Their Prevention

There are triggers that will worsen IBS symptoms in certain individuals. These triggers include:

  • The food you choose to consume may be a trigger. This is more evident in individuals who have allergic reactions to some specific foods. More common are dairy products, citrus fruits, beans, as well carbonated drinks.

  • Stress levels play a key role in elevating IBS. However, keep in mind that stress will only aggravate the symptoms but it will not cause the symptoms.

Irritable bowel syndrome as a disorder is manageable with mild symptoms in the long-term. The symptoms vary from one person to another. If you have symptoms related to IBS, you should see a doctor to make sure you do not have other more serious gastrointestinal conditions. Once you've been diagnosed with IBS, there are various medications that you can use to management your symptoms, although there is no cure for it.

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