Have you been suffering from abdominal pains, constipation or diarrhea for some time? You may have irritable bowel syndrome, a disorder affecting the digestive system. But don’t be discouraged: there are solutions to help relieve your symptoms!
Irritable bowel syndrome, also called spastic colon or irritable colon syndrome, is quite common. It is estimated that 10 to 20% of the general population is affected, with a higher frequency among women. Although the associated digestive symptoms are not a threat to your health, they can have a considerable impact on your quality of life. It is therefore important to learn how to manage this problem well so as to limit its unpleasant symptoms.
The digestive system is composed of several sections, each with a specific role to play in digestion. It all begins with the mouth, which is connected to the stomach by a long tube called the esophagus. Then, the contents of the stomach empty into a very long tube forming the intestines. The intestines perform the functions of digestion, nutrient absorption, and formation of stools. The very last part of the intestines, which measures over two metres long, is called the colon or large intestine. This is where irritable bowel syndrome can occur.
What is irritable bowel syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome is characterized by a change in the speed of the stools going through the large intestine. It should be noted that it is a chronic disorder, although there may be periods of remission. People may have symptoms over several months or years, and then have no symptoms for some time. However, it is a recurrent health problem. Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include:
- abdominal pain
Symptoms vary in intensity from one person to another and are often intermittent. Yet it should be remembered that these symptoms can also occur with other health problems. It is therefore important to consult a doctor to obtain a diagnosis, because these symptoms are not exclusive to irritable bowel syndrome.
What are the causes?
At the moment, the exact cause of this intestinal problem is unknown. We do know that a change occurs in the movement of the digestive system as a result of various environmental factors. Several hypotheses have been put forward to explain this change, but more research is needed to establish the exact cause.
It is believed, however, that psychological or infectious causes may exist. A link between anxiety, depression and irritable bowel syndrome has been found in some studies. A person’s mental state has a direct impact on intestinal motility and may therefore affect the intensity of symptoms. It has also been shown that people who have had severe intestinal infections may be at greater risk of suffering from this syndrome.
Whatever the case, it is likely that a number of factors contribute to the development of irritable bowel syndrome.
Several treatment options
There is no single, specific treatment for this health problem. However, symptoms can generally be relieved by a combination of medication and non-medication measures.
Different types of medication may be used according to the symptoms present, notably medication that acts on intestinal motility or on the formation of gas. Following a medical exam, your doctor can advise you on the medication most appropriate for your situation.
You can also play an active role in managing your symptoms by adopting certain behaviours, such as:
- Gradually increasing your fibre intake (psyllium or grains) through your diet
- Identifying foods and drinks that cause you to develop bloating, gas or diarrhea (e.g., dairy products) and reducing their consumption
- Limiting your consumption of fats, chocolate, alcohol and caffeinated beverages
- Drinking lots of water throughout the day
- Eating at regular intervals and opting for smaller rather than hearty meals
If your symptoms are triggered or exacerbated by a psychological cause, psychotherapy, stress management techniques or relaxation methods may also be options to consider.
Living with the disease
Open communication with your doctor and your pharmacist will no doubt facilitate the choice of the most appropriate treatment, whether it involves medication or not. This treatment will lessen your symptoms, enabling you to resume an active and productive life.
Above all, don’t let irritable bowel syndrome make you irritable too! Take charge of this health problem so that you can maintain your good mood and your quality of life.