WHAT IS IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME
by Celeste Cooper
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional bowel disorder, meaning that function is not normal despite the absence of disease. It is considered to occur more frequently in patients with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, myofascial pain syndrome (MPS), panic disorder, menstruation, and in some migraineurs. The cause is unknown, but many believe IBS occurs because of a disruption in the central nervous system where the brain does not send the right message or bowel receptors interpret signals incorrectly. Certainly, stress and panic can exacerbate an IBS attack, but attacks can occur anytime and are not always related to a stressful event; it can happen even during sleep.
The paradox is that an IBS attack can exacerbate symptoms of comorbid disorders. They can wipe out important nutrients needed to maintain other body systems, and when an attack occurs, it decreases the reserves necessary to deal with other neuro-endocrine-immune disorders.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or spastic colon, refers to a noninflammatory intestinal disorder that is characterized by recurrent cramping abdominal pain, bloating, mucous in the stool, and diarrhea and/or constipation (some people experience both).
Excerpt from: Integrative Therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain: the Mind-Body Connection. Chapter Two Communicating Your Health Care Needs, pg. 97-98 (See more about the book here.
There are three types of IBS that cause severe abdominal cramping (similar and in some cases worse than those experienced by people with gastroenteritis/ abdominal flu.)
IBS with constipation
IBS with diarrhea
IBS with alternating constipation and diarrhea
*The same patient can alternate between all three types of IBS, so be sure to discuss your symptoms even if they change. Your physician can make sure you have the medications necessary to help you.
IBS is not known to cause damage to the colon; however, it would be difficult to reassure a patient of this during an attack. There is a profound weakness that occurs after the attack and depending upon the frequency, the patient’s age, and other similar factors, it could be life threatening.
We don’t know for certain what causes IBS, but we do know some things that might help:
A word on probiotics:
In a recent trial, it was found that probiotics do not help with irritable bowel directly. Regardless, it is important to have a healthy bowel free of yeast overgrowth, leaky gut syndrome, or small intestine bacterial overgrowth (all discussed at length here), which does seem to occur more frequently in certain comorbid conditions to IBS. When we become a limp noodle, because of the water and electrolyte loss that occurs with an attack, we want to ensure we are getting the nutrients at other times. Probiotics are known to help with digestion, which is a process that extracts nutrients from the food we eat. Therefore, a probiotic may help directly or indirectly. You can find a plethora of information on probiotics and IBS at ProHealth here.
Those of us with IBS scope out bathroom locations as soon as we enter a store. We know what local gas station bathrooms look like. Some of us carry rescue devices in our cars, such as a coffee can and roll of toilet paper and disposable wipes. It is comforting to know you will not mess all over yourself, dirty your car, and it eases the anxiety when you begin to cramp uncontrollably.
Everyone knows I regard mindfulness, and positive thinking as tremendous coping tools, however, there is not enough positive feedback to ever ward off an attack when excessive peristalsis begins. Be prepared. You can read more about this in my blog, “Coming Clean on a Dirty Secret, Irritable Bowel Syndrome,” and you can find the link under Celeste Speaks / official blog feed here.
Though IBS is not considered a disease, it can be exacerbated by diseases of the bowel such as, Crohn’s disease and diverticulosis. If you have had a change in your bowel habits, or stool consistency or color, be sure to discuss them with your doctor. There are medications available to help.
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