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Irritable Bowel Syndrome 2

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Man with stomach painIrritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a relatively common disorder of the small and large intestines that cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, and constipation. Irritable bowel syndrome is not a disease, but a syndrome, which is a group of symptoms that occur together. There is currently no cure for irritable bowel syndrome, it is something that requires long term management.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a common disorder, but it is not known exactly how common it is as it can be quite a difficult disorder to diagnose (due to many other disorders having similar signs and symptoms), and due to the fact that many people will not go to a doctor when these symptoms appear. However it is estimated that 7% of the population of New Zealand deals with irritable bowel syndrome. Irritable bowel syndrome usually develops in young or middle aged people (before 45 years), and is a lot less common later in life. It affects twice as many women as it does men.

While irritable bowel syndrome can be extremely uncomfortable and painful, it does not cause any long term damage to the intestines, and it does not increase the risk of bowel cancer. However, it is still important to see a doctor if you are experiencing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, to rule out the possibility of more serious conditions that have similar signs and symptoms.

What causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome is what happens when there is disruption to the normal movement of the muscles in the outer wall of the intestines. Normally, the walls of the intestines will contract and relax automatically to push the food and waste through the intestines in order for the body to be able to absorb the water and nutrients from it.

With irritable bowel syndrome there is disruption to this muscle function. The muscles may contract and relax faster than usual, which will mean less water will be absorbed. This leads to watery stools (diarrhoea). The muscles may also contract and relax slower than normal, meaning more water will be absorbed. This leads to hard stools (constipation). There can also be spasm of the muscles, where the muscles contract very suddenly and strongly, which can cause painful stomach cramps and can cause gas to become trapped in the intestines, which can cause pain and bloating.

It is unknown exactly what causes the muscles of the intestines to not function normally with irritable bowel syndrome, however there are some thoughts on possible causes.

These possible causes are:

  • There is a disruption to the communication signals between the brain and the intestines leading to abnormal muscle function.
  • An infection such as bacterial gastroenteritis may trigger irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Psychological stress can lead to physical symptoms, and one of these may be irritable bowel syndrome. Stress can also make irritable bowel syndrome worse if it is something you are already dealing with.
  • Reproductive hormones can sometimes worsen symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Bacterial overgrowth in the intestines or changes of the microbiome in the intestines.
  • Intolerances to certain foods.

What are the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome?

The most common symptom of irritable bowel syndrome is pain and discomfort in the abdomen. Another very common symptom is bloating. Some people may experience diarrhoea, some people may experience constipation, and some people may experience both. Usually the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome will come and go. There can also be symptoms that are unrelated to the intestines such as headaches, back pain, painful periods, and general tiredness. If you are experiencing these symptoms it is important you see a doctor, as while irritable bowel syndrome may not cause lasting damage, there are conditions with similar symptoms that can be a lot more serious.

How can chiropractic help with irritable bowel syndrome?

It is thought that irritable bowel syndrome is caused by a disruption to the communication signals between the brain and the muscles in the intestines. These communication signals travel through the nervous system, which is what allows your brain and body to communicate. It is possible for there to be interference to this system, and a very common cause of interference to the nervous system is improper movement and dysfunction of the spine. Chiropractic care is the best way to help with this.

Chiropractors are able to locate the areas of the spine that are not moving properly, and adjust them to restore normal movement and function to the spine. This removes interference from the nervous system and allows the brain and body to communicate more effectively. If your brain and intestinal muscles are able to communicate properly, this may help to improve your symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Your chiropractor will also be able to give you lifestyle advice of other ways you can manage your irritable bowel syndrome.

What else can be done to help with irritable bowel syndrome?

There is currently no cure for IBS, but there are many ways it can be managed. These include:

  • Stress management: stress can play a big part in causing irritable bowel syndrome and making the symptoms worse. By managing stress and anxiety you can help to lessen your symptoms. This may be through things such as meditation, controlled breathing, or speaking to a therapist.
  • Dietary changes: changing your diet can help to manage the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. There are foods that tend to make symptoms worse that you should avoid, such as chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, dairy products, and certain types of carbohydrates. Eating smaller meals more often can help lessen diarrhoea, and eating larger meals filled with fibre can help to promote movement of food through the intestines and help with constipation. It is also a good idea to keep a food diary to see what foods make your symptoms better and worse.
  • Increasing fibre: increasing fibre in your diet can help with constipation. You can also take a fibre supplement.
  • Probiotics: probiotics can help with digestion by promoting the healthy bacteria in your gut.
  • Peppermint oil: peppermint oil is a natural anti spasmodic which can help with the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome if you are having cramping.