Irritable bowel syndrome
Stomach pains? Unpredictable bowel movements? Sounds like a nasty lurgy, but could it be linked to your stressed out lifestyle?
What is it?
Irritable bowel syndrome is often shortened to IBS. Other names include 'nervous indigestion' and 'spastic colon'. It often starts in early adulthood.
What happens in IBS
In a fully-functioning body, your guts work a little bit like a factory processing plant. Food gets carried along, stopping at regular intervals to be broken down and slowly digested. Eventually, there's nothing left but waste product, and that gets dumped round the back when nobody's looking.
IBS is an intestinal complaint that sees the whole processing operation go askew. The muscles that keep things moving are believed to go into spasm every now and then, which mucks up the digestion process from start to finish. IBS is not known to be caused by any specific physical abnormality, and this can make it difficult to diagnose.
What causes it?
Nobody knows what's behind IBS, but it is closely linked with emotional factors such as stress, bereavement and other major life changes such as moving house or getting a job. While stress does not actually cause IBS, it can leave you prone to an attack if you already suffer from the condition. Some sufferers say that it can be set off by certain foods too.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms vary from one person to the next, and also kick in over different periods of time:
- You get abdominal pain or discomfort that goes away soon after you go to the toilet.
- Your stomach feels bloated, often midway through a meal.
- You may find yourself veering between constipation and diarrhoea.
- Passing slime or mucus out of the bowel.
- Erratic bowel movements, often with 'rabbit pellets' being passed.
How to cope with it
Always let your doctor make the diagnosis, as some symptoms are closely related to more serious bowel complaints. If it is IBS, here are some self-help tips:
- Shape up your diet to make digestion easier. Include lots of fibre (rice, pasta, wholemeal bread), and drink water frequently throughout the day.
- Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, and cut out the junk. Also avoid food that tends to give you wind.
- Don't bolt your food. Take your time or make your meals smaller then eat little and often throughout the day.
- Identify those areas of your life that are causing you stress, and aim to improve the situation.
- Look into alternative treatments that can help reduce symptoms associated with IBS.
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