Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) occurs when muscles in your intestines contract faster or slower than normal. This causes pain, cramping, gassiness, sudden bouts of diarrhea, and constipation.

Two types of IBS exist. In spastic colon IBS, you experience constipation, diarrhea, or both, and you often have pain after eating. Painless diarrhea IBS involves the sudden onset of diarrhea during or after meals, or upon waking. Between 10 and 20 percent of the population has IBS at some time. The syndrome often starts in adolescents or young adults. It affects three times as many women as men and is often associated with stress.

Signs and Symptoms

What Causes It?

The underlying cause remains unknown. But the syndrome has no relation to actual disease, and it does not lead to other diseases.

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

Your health care provider will feel your abdomen to check for signs of pain. He or she will place a gloved finger in your rectum to check its condition. If you're female, you may have a pelvic examination. The provider may use a sigmoidoscope—a flexible instrument inserted into the rectum—to examine your lower colon. You may be asked to provide three days' worth of stool samples. Your provider may also want samples of your blood and urine. The provider may also want an ultrasound or X rays.

Treatment Options

Try to avoid stressful situations or foods that have triggered IBS in the past. Monthly hormonal changes and some drugs can affect your condition. Establishing regular bowel habits can be helpful. Your health care provider may prescribe medications to help you with the symptoms.

Drug Therapies

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

IBS has many underlying causes that can often be successfully treated with alternative therapies. Stress reduction techniques through biofeedback, hypnosis, or counseling can help you deal with stress. Nutrition Herbs
Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, teas should be made with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day. Homeopathy
Homeopathy may be useful as a supportive therapy.

Physical Medicine
Several small studies suggest that acupuncture may be of value for IBS. A preliminary study of seven people with IBS, for example, found that acupuncture improved general well-being and symptoms of bloating. No firm conclusions can be drawn about acupuncture's value in treating IBS, however, until larger clinical trials are conducted.

Acupuncturists treat people with IBS based on an individualized assessment of the excesses and deficiencies of qi located in various meridians. In the case of IBS, a qi deficiency is usually detected in the spleen and lung meridians. Moxibustion (a technique in which the herb mugwort is burned over specific acupuncture points) is frequently used for treatment of IBS because its effect is thought to reach deeper into the body. Because acupuncture is considered safe, and IBS is not easily treated by currently available conventional methods, people with IBS may wish to try acupuncture therapy to improve symptoms.

No well-designed studies have evaluated the effect of chiropractic on individuals with IBS, but chiropractors report that spinal manipulation may improve symptoms of the condition in some individuals. It is speculated that, in these cases, spinal manipulation may have a balancing effect on the nerves that supply impulses to the intestinal tract.

Therapeutic massage may help in reducing the effects of stress.

Following Up

Be aware that the syndrome itself may cause you stress.


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