Blog: Irritable Bowel Syndrome Explained
by CynthiaMadison

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Explained

Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS affects between 9% and 23% of the global population.

Date:   3/30/2020 2:06:50 PM   ( 3 y ) ... viewed 161 times

Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS affects between 9% and 23% of the global population, accounts for around 12% of visits to primary care physicians and is the most commonly diagnosed condition in gastroenterology clinics. People are most likely to develop IBS symptoms before the age of 50.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is also referred to as nervous colon, irritable colon, spastic colitis and mucous colitis. Although IBS is not a life-threatening condition and it doesn’t increase a patient’s risk of developing colon cancer, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, it is a chronic condition that can have a negative impact on someone’s overall life quality. Some patients report missing school or work or having to make changes such as shifting to remote work, reducing hours or not being able to work at all.

However, symptoms can improve over the years, as patients learn what triggers to avoid and how to manage their condition.


What is IBS?

IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder separate from inflammatory bowel disease that affects the large intestine (colon) and can cause a number of uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing symptoms that vary in duration and intensity. In some rare cases, the condition can cause intestinal damage.


As we mentioned, the symptoms of IBS vary from person to person, but these are the most common ones:

  • Bloating – Abdominal bloating will cause your midsection to feel full and tight and may even be visibly swollen

  • Abdominal pain and cramps – Patients with IBS report continuous or frequent abdominal pain and cramping that feels sharp or throbbing and is typically entirely or partially relieved after passing a bowel movement

  • Flatulence

  • Mucus in the stool – Mucus is a clear, liquid substance that coats your gastrointestinal tract and protects the tissue. With IBS patients, it’s common that mucus in passed during bowel movements because they tend to produce it in higher quantities.

  • Diarrhea/Constipation or sometimes alternating episodes of both. There are four types of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: IBS-C which means IBS with constipation, IBS-D which means IBS with diarrhea, mixed IBS or IBS-M, and IBS-U which means unsubtyped IBS for patients that can’t be easily fitted into the previous categories.

If your symptoms are more consistent with IBS-C you should have fewer than four bowel movements per week, you may need to strain in order to pass the stool, and the consistency should be hard, dry and lumpy. Constipation isn’t just uncomfortable, it can, unfortunately, also lead to other complications such as hemorrhoids, anal fissures or fecal impaction.

If your symptoms fit into the IBS-D subtype, then you should be passing loose stool multiple times per day.


The exact causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome are still unknown, but there are some factors that seem to play a role:

  • Contractions of the intestinal muscles – The walls of your intestines are lined with layers of muscle tissue that contract to move food through the digestive tract. When the contractions are stronger than standard, it can lead to bloating, excess gas and diarrhea. In contrast, when the contractions are weaker than standard, it slows down food passage and leads to dry, hard fecal matter.

  • Serotonin – 95% of the serotonin in your body is produced in the gut, and abnormal levels of this chemical can affect motility and bowel movements.

  • Nervous system – Irregularities in the nerves of your digestive system or poor coordination in signaling between the colon and the brain can cause your body to overreact which will lead to abdominal bloating, discomfort, pain, diarrhea or constipation.

  • Celiac disease – mild cases of celiac disease can damage the intestines and result in symptoms which mimic IBS.

  • Inflammation – Some patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome have higher than average amounts of immune cells in their colon, which results in an exaggerated immune response.

  • Changes in the intestinal microflora – Your digestive tract contains trillions of bacteria of over 1000 different types, most of which are located in the colon. By microflora, we are referring to the “good” bacteria which have important functions like producing some essential vitamins, boosting the immune system and protecting against the proliferation of “bad” bacteria.

Research has shown that a disturbance in the mutually beneficial relationship between the microflora and the host leads to the development of a series of conditions. It seems that the use of probiotics such as the ones from Mind Your Head York can help regulate bowel function, reduce discomfort, restore normal motility and boost immunity.

  • Infection – Reports show that some people develop symptoms of IBS after a severe episode of diarrhea or gastroenteritis caused by viral or bacterial infection.

IBS Triggers

Symptoms vary from patient to patient, and there can be periods when they have very mild symptoms or are even asymptomatic, as well as have episodes of more severe discomfort caused by IBS. As per patient reports, the most common triggers for severe episodes are:

  • Hormones – Statistically speaking, patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome are twice as likely to be women, which would suggest that hormonal changes play a part in the development of this condition. Also, women who are still menstruating have more severe symptoms than women who have reached menopause, and throughout the duration of the menstrual period, symptoms seem to get worse.

  • Stress – Stress doesn’t cause the symptoms of IBS, but it can aggravate them. Most people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome report that during times of increased stress, they experience more discomfort and more severe signs of their condition. Patients suffering from PTSD or anxiety disorders are likewise more likely to have IBS symptoms.

  • Certain foods – Although food allergies are rarely the cause of developing IBS and medical professional have not yet reached a consensus regarding the role of food allergies and intolerance in the symptomatology of this condition, most patients experience negative reactions to certain food items or beverages. It might be a good idea to keep a food diary and see how dietary changes affect your symptoms. Usually, discomfort is experienced when carbonated drinks, milk, coffee or alcohol are consumed, as well as any dairy products, wheat, citrus fruits, cabbage and beans.

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