Bowel Syndrome 101 Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is classified as a functional gastrointestinal disorder. This is because upon diagnostic testing, the colon shows no evidence of disease such as ulcers or inflammation. Therefore, IBS is diagnosed only after all other possible digestive disorders and diseases have been ruled out. IBS is often misdiagnosed or misnamed as colitis, mucous colitis, spastic colon, irritable bowel disease or spastic bowel (colon). These misnomers persist, even though IBS is now a recognized and treatable condition. Affecting between 25 and 55 million people in the United States, IBS results in 2.5 to 3.5 million yearly visits to physicians. 20 to 40 percent of all visits to gastroenterologists are due to symptoms of IBS. Muscles in the bowel normally contract a few times a day, moving feces along and ultimately resulting in a bowel movement. It is believed that in a person with IBS, these muscles are exceptionally sensitive to stimuli, or triggers. While they would not normally affect others, triggers such as food or stress can provoke a strong response in a person with IBS. A person who does not have IBS may have no trouble eating a salad, or drinking coffee, but a person with IBS may exhibit symptoms such as pain, bloating, and diarrhea. The symptoms of IBS can include: Gas. Pain. Bloating. Nausea. Vomiting. Mucous in the stool. Constipation. Diarrhea. Cramps are often relieved by a bowel movement, but some people with IBS may have cramps and be unable to pass anything. Severity of symptoms can vary widely and be described as anything from a mild annoyance to debilitating. Blood in the stool, fever, weight loss, vomiting bile, and persistent pain are not symptoms of IBS and may be the result of some other problem. IBS is the second only to the common cold as being the most frequent cause of absenteeism from work and school. Many people with IBS describe that symptoms frequently occur shortly after, or even during, meals. Fatty foods, alcohol, caffeine and gas-producing foods (such as broccoli or beans) have regularly been named culprits in causing IBS attacks. It can be difficult to track down which particular foods can act as triggers for IBS. Further complicating the issue, not every person with IBS responds with symptoms to the same foods. The range of triggers is unique to each individual, although there are may common elements among most people with IBS. Symptoms can also be intermittent. Something that was fine to eat last week may be causing symptoms today. Treatment for IBS can include changes to diet, lifestyle, stress reduction, and medications. Often, a combination of two or more of the above will help to provide the most relief. There is still much that is understood about IBS, so it may take some time, and some experimentation with different therapies to achieve good results. Diet Keeping a food and symptom diary is a good way to trace foods that lead to IBS attacks. Starting with a bland diet of "safe foods" and gradually adding a new food each day can also help in the search for specific food triggers. The food diary can then be discussed with a doctor or dietician for help in treatment. Common trigger foods include: Alcohol Artificial sweeteners Artificial fat (Olestra) Carbonated beverages Coconut milk Coffee (even decaffeinated) Dairy Egg yolks Fried Foods Oils Poultry skin and dark meat Red meat Shortening Solid Chocolate Lifestyle Changes Smaller portions at mealtimes may help to prevent bloating and cramping. Instead of three large meals every day, five smaller meals may also help. Eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water and daily exercise are also helpful in reducing IBS symptoms. These changes can also contribute to an overall healthy lifestyle. Stress Reduction Relaxation training, in addition to medical therapy, can also help to reduce symptoms. It is important to note that stress is not the cause of IBS, but as with any disease or disorder, stress can cause the symptoms of IBS to worsen. IBS is not believed to lead to ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, cancer, or other serious diseases. Medications For constipation, a doctor may prescribe laxatives or fiber supplements such as Metamucil. Fiber supplements help with both constipation and diarrhea. They bulk up the stool in cases of diarrhea, and also make it easier to pass in the case of constipation. Laxatives can be habit-forming, and should be used under the close supervision of a physician. Anti-spasmodic drugs or tranquilizers may be prescribed to stop the over sensitivity of the muscles in the bowel. Stopping the spasms in the bowel can reduce pain and the feeling of urgency. Anti-diarrhea medications may also be used to slow down frequent, watery stools. The Future The good news about IBS is that it is increasingly being seen under a new light. People with this common disorder can discuss symptoms with health care professionals without being told "it's all in your head". IBS even has two new spokespersons - Kelsey and Camille Grammer who are working to raise awareness. In the last 20 years, much research has been done to discover more about IBS and other gastrointestinal disorders. Treatment for IBS is better now than it ever has been in the past, but more research and awareness is needed to raise the quality of life for those who suffer with IBS.