Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, isn’t a single symptom, but a collection of painful symptoms that affect the digestive tract. According to Marla Ahlgrimm, IBS is characterized by cramping, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain for a period of at least three months. Though uncomfortable, IBS is not linked to cancer or colonic damage.
Currently, there is no specific known cause of irritable bowel syndrome, but it is most common in women under the age of 35 with a family history of the condition. IBS may be linked to hormones, since symptoms are often more bothersome during a woman’s menstrual cycle, says Marla Ahlgrimm.
Occasional bloating and other intermittent digestive disorders may not lead to an IBS diagnosis, explains Marla Ahlgrimm. Diagnosis is made based on self-reported symptoms and after thorough medical exam, which may include a physical check of the abdomen and rectum. Certain symptoms, including rectal bleeding, iron deficiency anemia, weight loss, and sudden nighttime diarrhea may prompt further testing to rule out celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or colorectal cancer.
Marla Ahlgrimm reports that a doctor may perform a colonoscopy to examine the large intestine for inflammation, ulcers, or abnormal growth. Persons over the age of 50 with chronic irritable bowel syndrome symptoms should talk to their doctor about having a colonoscopy to preemptively screen for colorectal cancer. Many people who present with irritable bowel syndrome symptoms find that they are actually lactose intolerant; abstaining from dairy products will circumvent symptoms in these patients.
Though there is no cure for IBS, stress relief, medication, and dietary changes can help. Foods such as milk, coffee, soda, alcohol, and even certain fruits and vegetables may be eliminated to avoid upsetting the delicate balance of the intestines. IBS sufferers with constipation should eat high-fiber foods, aiming for at least 20g each day, to make bowel movements easier. Marla Ahlgrimm asserts that drinking plenty of water will help IBS patients avoid dehydration, especially those who suffer with diarrhea.