Irritable Bowel Syndrome – an overview
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common condition that affects 1 in 5 Australian in varying degrees. Other terms for irritable bowel syndrome include ‘spastic colon’ and ‘irritable colon’. It seems that people with IBS have bowels that are unusually sensitive and easy upset. Women are more likely to suffer from IBS than men and the first symptoms often occur in early childhood.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
The specific cause of IBS is unknown but factors such as changes of routine, emotional stress, infection and diet may trigger an attack. IBS doesn’t cause lasting damage and doesn’t lead to the development of more serious bowel conditions such as cancer. Certain factors have been observed to trigger IBS symptoms in predisposed individuals, these include:
- Food intolerance – a diminished capacity to absorb the sugar lactose found in dairy and processed foods is thought to be the most common dietary trigger for IBS. Some other sugars such as fructose and sorbitol are also believed to trigger IBS.
- Emotional stress – emotions, such as anxiety or stress, can affect the nerves of the bowel in susceptible people. Changes in emotional states can often trigger symptoms of IBS.
- Diet – low fibre diets or spicy foods may cause problems however, this is unproven and many gastroenterologists do not believe that diet play a big role in IBS after specific food intolerances have been dealt with.
- Infection – gastroenteritis can cause ongoing bowel symptoms even after the offending bacteria or virus has been eliminated. The cause of this is not known, but it may be that changes to nerve functions in the bowel or changes in the bacterial population of the bowel trigger IBS.
- Medications – certain drugs are known to affect the bowel.