For the past 5 months or so, I've been experiencing these awful cramps in my lower abdomen. I've also been experiencing frequent diarrhea, and time of constipation. I saw my PCP about it and she said she believes it could be IBS or something else, since there are hundreds of different types of digestion problems. I was referred to see a Gastrologist on April 7th so he can better diagnose me. In the meantime, I've started a journal and everyday I write down whether or not I experience any pains and record my BMs. Hopefully this will help him diagnose me and I can find relief because these pains are so severe, I sometimes vomit. Since I don't really know too much about IBS, I figured why not write a blog on it!
IBS or Irritable Bowl Syndrome, is a disorder in which a person experiences severe abdominal pain, cramping, and changes in bowl movements. It's a disorder that affects the large intestine or the colon. Thankfully, despite all of the symptoms associated with IBS, it does not damage your colon. This is not to be confused with IBD or Irritable Bowl Disease, which includes Crohn's disease and Ulcerative colitis (I will be writing a blog on this in the future).
Symptoms of IBS vary from person to person from mild to severe, most cases are mild. Symptoms include abdominal pain, fullness, mucous in the stool, gas and bloating that are present for 6 months or more. The pain will often come after meals, come and go and is relieved after having a bowl movement. People will also experience both diarrhea and constipation, or have one occur very often. People who experience having diarrhea, often have loose, watery bowls and is sometimes hard to control. The people who are experiencing constipation will have a lot of difficulty going to the bathroom, straining to go and will go a lot less often than normal. Most times they don't go at all, or a very small amount comes out. Most people's experiences with IBS can be mild, but other severe cases the pain can be very disabling.
What causes IBS? It's tough to pinpoint exactly what causes this to happen in some people. According to the Mayo Clinic "The walls of the intestines are lined with layers of muscle that contract and relax in a coordinated rhythm as they move food from your stomach through your intestinal tract to your rectum". When you have IBS, the contractions are longer and stronger, causing the food to be moved through your intestines at a more rapid rate, and causing the pain, gas and/or diarrhea. In other cases, the food is passed through a lot more slowly, causing the food to become hard and dry, thus leading to constipation.
Like I said before, there is no known cause for IBS to occur, but certain things in the environment make it worse. Certain foods like milk or alcohol, stress, hormones and/or other illnesses can make IBS happen to someone, or make it worse. IBS can appear at any age, but is most common in adolescence and young adults, and is more often seen in women. It is said that 1 in 6 Americans in the U.S. have Irritable Bowl Syndrome.
How to test for IBS? IBS is usually diagnosed based just on symptoms, in some cases only small testing is required. The tests that are usually done, are used to rule out other causes. Normal tests usually include: a blood test
, a complete blood count or CBC is usually done to test everything, a stool sample
(to test for blood in the stool or infection), a Flexible sigmoidoscopy, which allows a health professional to look inside the lower part of the large intestine for abnormal growths, inflammation, bleeding, hemorrhoids, and other conditions, and a colonoscopy which allows to doctor to look at the entire lining of the large intestine. If these tests are still inclaclusive, further testing may need to be done to make sure there isn't something else going on since there are many, many different types of digestive problems that can occur.
Treating IBS is usually simple, it requires change in diet and exercise, or in rare cases medication may be prescribed. There is no cure, so eating simple foods and avoiding foods that upset your stomach is best. Most doctors suggest starting a food journal, start jotting down what you eat each day, along with your symptoms and see if you see any patterns. You may come to realize what foods are causing you pain, foods that doctors recommend you avoid and are common triggers of IBS are: caffeine drinks such as soda, coffee or tea, milk products, chocolate, alcohol or wheat. Fiber is very helpful in helping IBS symptoms because it helps the intestine's work. There are two different types of fiber: Soluble fiber
which helps both diarrhea and constipation. It dissolves in water and forms a gel-like material. Many foods, such as apples, beans and citrus fruits, contain soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber
which helps constipation by moving material through your digestive system and adding bulk to your stool. Insoluble fiber is in whole grain breads, wheat bran and many vegetables. Adding fiber to your diet can be very beneficial to you, but add it slowly to your diet, because if you add too much too fast, it can cause bloating and gas. If this does occur, it usually goes away with time as your body gets used to using the fiber, just be careful and take it slow. According to Family Doctor "If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may prescribe medicine to help you manage or lessen your symptoms. For example, if your main symptom is pain, your doctor may prescribe antispasmodic medicines such as hyoscyamine or dicyclomine to reduce cramping. Heating pads and hot baths can also be comforting. If diarrhea is a frequent problem, medicine such as loperamide (brand name: Imodium) may help.Your doctor may give you tranquilizers or sedatives for short periods to treat anxiety that may be making your symptoms worse. Your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant for you if your symptoms are severe and you are feeling depressed."
IBS isn't a serious condition, and can easily be treated, but if you are experiencing any kind of digestive issues, it's very important to seek medical attention. Most digestive problems have very similar symptoms, so you never know, what you're brushing off as "just pain" could be some underlying condition. Again, good luck to all and thanks for reading my blog!!!