Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a disease that consists of belly discomfort or pain, as well as different problems with bowel habits. It is not life-threatening, nor does it make you more likely to get other colon conditions, but it is a long-lasting problem that will affect your daily life. It affects between 25 and 45 million Americans, and most of them are women. You are more likely to get this condition between your late teens and early 40s.
What’s curious about this condition is that experts don’t really know what causes it, although there are several known triggers. According to some studies, the colon gets hypersensitive and overreacts to mild stimulation, so bowel muscles spasm instead of having slow, rhythmic movements. This change can cause constipation or diarrhea.
There are different theories as to what the cause of IBS is. Some people think that the bowel muscles don’t squeeze normally, which affects the movement of stool; however, there are no studies that prove this theory. Others believe that some chemicals made by the body, that control the nerve symptoms between the digestive tract and brain, may be the main reason IBS happens. There are also some studies that are trying to determine if there are specific bacteria in the bowels that can cause this condition. Others believe that it may have something to do with hormones, since it happens in women much more often than in men, but this, again, hasn’t been proven yet. Another theory that is yet to be proven is that IBS is caused by some food allergies or sensitivities. In some known cases, it has developed after some episodes of gastroenteritis. The symptoms of this disease are likely to worsen in stressful periods or during menstruation, but it is unlikely that these are the causes that lead to its development.
While people suffering from IBS may have to change their lifestyles, miss work or school more commonly, or have to change their work setting completely (in some cases, not working at all), it is important to know that IBS is not contagious, cancerous, or inherited. As mentioned earlier, women suffer from it more commonly than men, usually before the age of 35. It can also affect children (from 5% to 20% of them).
It is known that the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be triggered by:
Stress – it is important to make a difference between triggering symptoms and causing them. It is known that people with IBS can experience worse symptoms and that they may be more frequent, during periods of increased stress. However, it is not the initial cause of the condition.
Food – scientists are still trying to fully understand the role of food intolerance or allergies in IBS. Again, food allergies are unlikely to cause IBS, but they can make the situation worse. This goes especially for some foods and beverages, such as dairy products, beans, citrus fruits, cabbage, carbonated drinks, and wheat.
Hormones – as mentioned above, hormones may play a role in triggering IBS. Women are twice as likely to have IBS, and they often have worse symptoms during or around their menstruation.
While most people will experience some of the IBS symptoms at some point in their lives, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the condition. However, you are more likely to have it if:
- You are under 50 years old
- You are female
- You have a family history of IBS (it hasn’t been proven that genes play a role, but they might, as well as some shared factors in the family’s environment)
- You have a mental health problem (such as anxiety, depression, and other issues. Another risk factor may be a history of abuse, whether it is sexual, physical or emotional)