Irritable bowel

Irritable bowel (intestine) syndrome: causes, symptoms, treatment

Irritable bowel

The condition known as irritable bowel (or intestine) syndrome affects the digestive system of millions of people worldwide (especially women). It consists of a group of symptoms that usually appear together and do not heal - they can only be managed through diet, natural methods and / or medication.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is also known as irritable intestine syndrome (IIS), mucosa colitis and spastic colitis. IBS is a mixture of discomfort and intestinal problems, about the frequency of stools or their consistency. Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional condition: the digestive tract looks normal, but it does not always work as it should. The intestinal muscles (which move ingested food from the stomach to the rectum) contract abnormally: these spasms are longer and stronger than normal, so they cause pain and interruptions in the process. If they slow it down, constipation occurs; if they accelerate, diarrhea occurs (and people with irritable bowel syndrome may alternate between the two). Abdominal pain also occurs because the digestive tract of IBS patients contains more sensitive nerve endings.

People tend to get sick in their late teens or early 40s. Irritable bowel syndrome affects more women than men, it is definitely not a deadly disease and does not increase your chances of getting other intestinal diseases: ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, bowel cancer. But it is a long-term problem that cannot be cured – it can only be managed and ameliorated by nutrition, natural methods or medication. Some people with this syndrome experience minor symptoms, but others have significant problems that can affect their daily lives. People suffering from IBS may be absent from school / job more often, may not be able to participate in daily activities, may be forced to work from home, less or not at all.

In this material we review the causes of this disease, how many types it is, the risk factors, the common symptoms associated with it, the complications it can bring together, how you can prevent and treat it. In addition, we tell you when you need to go to the doctor urgently.

Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome

IBS symptoms differ in duration and severity, from person to person, may occur continuously or only temporarily, may vary in intensity (patients have better days and worse days), may be triggered by food or drink, may consist of in episodes of constipation and then diarrhea and can last for days, weeks or months in a row and stress can make symptoms worse. Being triggered by different things, depending on the person, it is difficult to determine what each IBS patient should avoid.

Women tend to have symptoms during menstruation (or when they are pregnant) or have more intense symptoms. Those who are at menopause have fewer symptoms. Men have the same problems, but they signal them and ask for help much less often.

Here are the most common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome:

  • abdominal pains and cramps (especially in the lower part of it), which worsen after the meal and can be reduced after bowel evacuation;
  • bloating and gas;
  • violent diarrhea, which can alternate with constipation (with the feeling of incomplete emptying of the bowel);
  • stools that are harder or softer than normal;
  • swelling of the abdomen;
  • food intolerance to certain foods (most often some that produce gas, contain lactose or gluten);
  • other symptoms (flatulence, anorectal elimination of mucus, fatigue and lack of energy, trouble sleeping, nausea, back pain, urination problems, anal incontinence, anxiety and depression).

Types of irritable bowel syndrome

There are 4 types of irritable bowel syndrome: 4 tipuri de sindrom de colon iritabil:

  • with constipation (IBS-C);
  • with diarrhea (IBS-D);
  • mixed, with alternating digestive symptoms (IBS-M);
  • unclassified (IBS-U).


Symptoms of the irritable syndrome can be triggered by:

  • diet (the role of food allergies or intolerances in the occurrence of this disease is not fully understood, but many patients have more severe symptoms after consuming certain foods and beverages - wheat, dairy, citrus, beans, cabbage, carbonated beverages);
  • hormones (women are twice predisposed to this syndrome and their symptoms worsen during menstruation);
  • stress (most patients have more severe or more frequent symptoms during periods when they are more stressed).

Risk factors

Many of us may occasionally have symptoms of IBS, but the risk increases among:

  • young people (this syndrome occurs more often among people under 50);
  • women (menstruation, hormonal changes during pregnancy, estrogen therapy before / after menopause are all risk factors);
  • people with a family history of IBS (genetic inheritance and common environmental factors may play a role);
  • people with mental health problems (anxiety, depression, history of sexual, physical or emotional abuse).


Irritable bowel syndrome can degenerate into complications such as hemorrhoids (caused by constipation or chronic diarrhea), problems such as anxiety and depression, poor quality of life (personally and professionally).

When do I have to go to the doctor?

If the above symptoms sound familiar to you, then you can clearly determine whether or not you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome by visiting a family doctor, who can recommend you to a gastroenterologist. The latter can impose a diet, recommend you blood and stool tests, do a colonoscopy or other investigations, to determine whether or not you suffer from this condition (or another).

Irritable bowel syndrome is diagnosed based on recurrent abdominal pain for at least 6 months, combined with weekly pains for 3 months and a combination of changes in stool frequency and consistency.

But keep in mind that you need to see a doctor urgently if you have the following symptoms (in addition to the common ones, of IBS):

  • weight loss for no reason;
  • nocturnal diarrhea;
  • rectal bleeding or stool with traces of blood;
  • unexplained vomiting;
  • difficulty with swallowing;
  • palpitations and pale skin;
  • anemia caused by iron deficiency;
  • a strong swelling in the abdomen;
  • permanent pain, which does not pass with the elimination of gas or excretion.

Irritable bowel treatment

Once you have the confirmation that you have irritable bowel syndrome, it can be treated (not cured) by managing your symptoms - preventing and reducing them. Your doctor may recommend "home remedies" (dietary changes or natural methods) before medication. To manage your symptoms, you can try:

To make changes in your diet

You can reduce bloating by trying the FODMAP diet (oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and fermentable polyols), meaning foods rich in fructose, fructans, lactose, galactans and polyols.

Give up:
  • certain fruits (apples, pears, peaches, apricots, blackberries, cherries, melon, figs, dried and canned fruits);
  • certain vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, artichokes, beets, onions, leeks, garlic, mushrooms, peas);
  • certain concentrated inducers (honey, xylitol, sorbitol);
  • dairy products with lactose (milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream);
  • certain leguminous plants (beans, chickpeas, lentils, soy);
  • certain seeds (pistachios);
  • certain cereals (wheat, rice, rye) and products containing them (bread, pasta, sticks, waffles, pancakes, biscuits, crackers, pretzels);
  • certain drinks (wine, beer, soy milk, fruit juices, carbonated drinks sweetened with fructose-rich corn syrup, beverages with caffeine);
  • oil-fried or spicy foods;
  • smoking.

Keep a food diary (which can help you figure out what foods or drinks are causing you troubles), eat smaller portions at each meal, and eat instead:

  • meat, fish and eggs;
  • lactose-free dairy products (hard or soft cheeses);
  • certain fruits (bananas, melon, blueberries, grapes, raspberries, strawberries, kiwi, grapefruit, lemons, oranges, tangerines);
  • certain vegetables (carrots, celery, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, spinach, eggplant, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, squash, turnips, water chestnuts);
  • certain nuts and seeds (almonds, cashew, ground hazelnuts, Macadamia nuts, pine seeds, sesame seeds);
  • certain cereals (oats, corn, rice, quinoa, sorghum);
  • certain sweeteners (maple syrup, molasses, stevia);
  • animal fats and vegetable oils;
  • spices and condiments (ginger, mint);
  • water (at least 3-4 glasses / day) and tea;
  • thickening agents (psyllium and wheat bran, corn fiber and more fibers from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, which slow down the transit through the digestive system and can relieve the symptoms of IBS);
  • probiotics (to fight bloating).

Do natural treatments

Essential oils of mint, chamomile, ginger, turmeric, fennel, cumin, cardamom, rhubarb, juniper, grapefruit, black pepper and cypress, plus teas of mint, chamomile, wormwood, fennel, lemon balm, yellow gentian and angelic (great hemlock) can help you fight bloating. Ginger tea can soothe the stomach, helps the elimination of excess gas and can treat bloating, constipation and pain. And berry leaf tea reduces intestinal inflammation and spasms. Then there are mixtures already created of extracts of artichoke, chamomile, celandine, mint, lemon balm and other plants, which fight spasms, constipation and diarrhea.

Do sports regularly

Moderate and regular physical activity - walking, yoga, swimming - relaxes the body and can manage the symptoms of IBS.

Do biofeedback

Do biofeedback with the help of electrical sensors, thus you get feedback on certain body functions and you can learn to relax certain muscles.

Do progressive relaxation exercises

Doing progressive relaxation exercises helps you to relax all the muscles in your body, including the abdominal ones.

Do mindfulness exercises

Do stress-reducing mindfulness exercises that help you focus on the present moment and give up worries and problems.

Do acupuncture

Do acupuncture to combat pain.

Do psychotherapy

Do psychotherapy to manage stress.

Take medications prescribed by a specialist

Take medication prescribed by a specialist who fights constipation, antibiotics, antispasmodics, antidepressants.

Prevention of irritable bowel syndrome

To prevent irritable bowel syndrome, you need to consider the following pieces of advice:

  • cook your food at home, from fresh ingredients, as often as you can;
  • try to find various ways to relax;
  • constantly do sports and exercise;
  • do not skip meals;
  • do not eat too fast;
  • do not eat a lot of processed, fatty or spicy food;
  • do not eat more than 3 servings (80 g each) of fresh fruit / day;
  • do not drink more than 3 cups of tea or coffee / day;
  • do not drink a lot of alcohol and carbonated beverages;
  • consume daily whole grains and flax seeds, rich in fiber;
  • avoid hard-to-digest foods (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, onion, dried fruit);
  • avoid products sweetened with sorbitol.

Did you know that...?

  • Irritable bowel syndrome is a separate condition from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and is not related to other intestinal conditions. IBS is triggered by the defective connection between the intestine, the brain and the nervous system, while IBD occurs when the immune system attacks the intestine, which can affect the tissues;
  • Some people with IBS develop this syndrome after an episode of food intoxication, bacteria like Salmonella can do a lot of damage on the system.
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