Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a disorder of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Doctors have yet to pinpoint its exact cause, but they suspect it relates to a defect in the nerves that connect the digestive tract and the brain. Symptoms usually appear after consuming certain foods or beverages and may continue for a few days before the stomach settles down. This uncomfortable and inconvenient condition lacks a cure but is not life-threatening.
Diarrhea is one of the most common irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. Yet, half of all reported cases do not include diarrhea as a symptom. When diarrhea attacks occur, the urge to vacate the bowels is strong and unexpected. Along with discomfort, this symptom is also potentially embarrassing. In addition, diarrhea deprives the body of vital nutrients and liquids, which must be replenished after an attack.
Since diarrhea and constipation are opposites, it might be hard to believe that this disorder can cause both. Sometimes people with irritable bowel syndrome experience diarrhea and then become constipated. These individuals might also find it difficult to empty their bowels on a single attempt, and feces may be dry and hard.
Not everyone with irritable bowel syndrome experiences stomach pains or cramps, but a large number do have these symptoms. The pain varies in severity from person to person and can come and go; it may be sharp or cause a dull ache in any part of the abdomen. Stress and certain foods can trigger the symptoms. If this symptom keeps growing worse, causes weight loss, or interrupts sleep, the individual should see a doctor.
A bloated stomach is associated with a variety of health conditions and is another oft-encountered irritable bowel syndrome symptom. The exact cause of the bloating is unknown but may relate to the excess gas produced by people with IBS. The effects can vary throughout the day and are often worse after meals and in the evening.
A backache is a less common symptom of irritable bowel syndrome and as such is not often indicative of this issue in people who have yet to receive a diagnosis. Instead, people might think they have strained or otherwise injured their back. On its own, back pain is unlikely to be related to IBS, but if it accompanies other IBS issues, it could be one more symptom.
Rarely, IBS can lead to incontinence of urine or bowel. Urine incontinence may come from the extra pressure and fullness concentrated on the bladder. Bowel incontinence can arise from frequent diarrhea. Since this is a less common sign of IBS, people with this symptom should see a doctor. A variety of other health conditions can cause incontinence too.
The escape of foul-smelling gases from the body is a distressing IBS symptom that is more difficult to manage or conceal than some others. These symptoms are often embarrassing to people with irritable bowel syndrome, making them uncomfortable in social situations during a flare-up. In some cases, dietary changes can alleviate this symptom. Keeping a food diary helps identify foods that trigger flatulence and other IBS symptoms. Once identified, they can be avoided.
Belching and burping sometimes relate to difficulties digesting food and drink, or excess gas. These actions are common in people with IBS and may be due to trapped air or gas moving through the digestive tract. Belches and burps can be embarrassing, but certain medications can help relieve the symptoms.
A wide range of physical and emotional issues can lead to lethargy, resulting in a lack of energy at work or home and a loss of enthusiasm for activities that used to spark joy. The idea that IBS is the cause of this fatigue comes as a surprise to many people, but persistent tiredness can indicate this condition if other symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are also present.
Again, there are many possible causes why a person might feel ill. There is no reason to suspect that irritable bowel syndrome is the cause when no other symptoms of the disorder are present. However, general feelings of sickness similar to the flu, such as nausea, can be caused by IBS.
Aside from the already mentioned diarrhea and constipation, patients with IBS often experience alterations in the form of their bowel movements. Stools may appear thin, ribbon-like, or pellet-shaped. Also, the frequency of bowel movements can change, oscillating between periods of constipation and diarrhea. These fluctuations can cause significant discomfort and are a distinctive aspect of IBS.
An often overlooked sign of IBS is the presence of mucus in the stool. While a small amount of mucus in your stool is normal, larger amounts could indicate a problem. Patients with IBS may notice a clear or white mucus, which is a direct result of increased secretion in the gut associated with the condition.
In addition to regular symptoms, many individuals with IBS find that their system is sensitive or intolerant to certain foods or drinks. Dairy products, high-fat foods, or carbonated drinks are common triggers. This may result in an exacerbation of symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain shortly after consumption.
A common complaint among IBS patients is the feeling of incomplete evacuation. This sensation persists even after going to the restroom, leading to prolonged discomfort and repeated trips to the bathroom. This symptom can contribute significantly to the distress and inconvenience associated with IBS.
In IBS-D, the most common symptoms are stomach pain and frequent, loose, or watery stools. Patients with this type often experience a sudden and urgent need to use the bathroom and may feel relief from abdominal pain after a bowel movement.
IBS-C is characterized primarily by stomach pain and infrequent bowel movements that are hard or lumpy. Patients often report the sensation of incomplete evacuation, which can cause significant discomfort and impact daily life.
IBS-M, also known as IBS with alternating stool pattern, is characterized by recurring episodes of both constipation and diarrhea. Patients with IBS-M experience stomach pain and irregular bowel movements, swinging between periods of diarrhea and constipation.
A notable connection has been established between IBS and mental health conditions. The physiological distress caused by IBS symptoms often leads to psychological distress, contributing to conditions like anxiety and depression. Moreover, stress and mental health disorders can, in turn, exacerbate IBS symptoms, creating a cycle that can be challenging to break without integrated treatment.
While IBS is often thought of as an adult condition, it can also affect children. The symptoms in children are similar to those in adults, including abdominal pain, changes in bowel movements, and bloating. However, diagnosing IBS in children can be challenging, and it requires a careful review of symptoms, medical history, and, in some cases, specific diagnostic tests.
Understanding and managing IBS in children often involves a combination of dietary modifications, stress management techniques, and, in some cases, medication.
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