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Irritable bowel syndrome: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional disorder of the digestive tract, mainly involving the large intestine. It is a longstanding condition which causes immense distress to the affected individual. However, it is not very serious and does not lead to long-lasting complications.

Irritable bowel syndrome: Incidence, age and sex

Irritable bowel syndrome is one of the commonest gastrointestinal disorders affecting almost 10-20% of the general population. It usually afflicts young adults; however it may affect an individual of any age group. Its frequency in women is two times more as compared with men.

Signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome: Diagnosis

The clinical features of irritable bowel syndrome mainly include recurrent abdominal pain which is crampy in nature along with altered bowel habits. Some individuals may complain of persistent diarrhoea, or some may have constipation. In fact, some individuals may also experience alternating occurrence of diarrhoea and constipation. Other features which may also be seen are bloating, feeling of fullness, mucous in stool and feeling of incomplete evacuation.

Such features need to be evaluated comprehensively by a gastroenterologist and certain tests recommended, to rule out other disorders like malabsorption syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, which may manifest with similar symptoms. Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional disorder which does not require any tests for establishing its diagnosis. Investigations like proctoscopy and colonoscopy which help in direct visualization of the inside of the large bowel may be considered to evaluate other causes. Likewise, other tests like blood tests and stool tests may also help in excluding other gastrointestinal problems.

Causes and prevention of irritable bowel syndrome

The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is not very clear. However, certain theories have been formulated which point towards functional disruption in transfer of signals between the nerves and the muscles of the bowel. This leads to increased sensitivity of the bowel, resulting in augmented perception of abdominal discomfort and pain. There is no structural problem in the digestive tract in an individual with irritable bowel syndrome. Anxiety and emotional stress may also contribute to this functional disorder. Moreover, it may also be associated with another functional disorder called chronic fatigue syndrome.

Irritable bowel syndrome: Complications

Irritable bowel syndrome is not a serious disorder, and does not lead to any lasting health effects. However the affected individual may experience persistent physical discomfort and immense emotional distress.

Irritable bowel syndrome: Treatment

Unfortunately there is no specific treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. Symptomatic relief in form of antidepressant and antispasmodic medications may be given. Other measures like stress management, relaxation therapy and psychosocial therapy may play a significant role in alleviating the symptoms. Dietary modifications like increased consumption of high fibre food (citrus fruits, legumes) and avoidance of food items like caffeine, beans, cauliflower and broccoli may also contribute to improvement in the condition.