Not that serious but chronic
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The symptoms of chronic abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea that do not respond sufficiently to medical treatment affect many people.
What can people do if they have this condition, known as Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a disease frequently diagnosed as the culprit of many patients’ digestive problems. But, not surprisingly, these patients often misunderstand its symptoms, which are similar to other diseases, such as various stomach disorders, constipation and diarrhea.
Better Health talks with Dr. Suriya Chakkapak, a surgeon who specializes in Gastroenterology and Hepatology, to help you better understand the Irritable Bowel Syndrome group of ailments.
What is irritable bowel syndrome?
IBS is a group of symptoms occurring from bowel dysfunction, but in which no physical bowel disorder (tumor, cancer, inflammation, or other conditions, etc.) could be identified as the cause, Dr. Suriya explains.
IBS patients’ main symptom is chronic stomachache and abdominal pain, on and off for a period of over six months, in conjunction with bowel habit disorders.
IBS symptoms categories:
- Diarrhea Group;
- Constipation Group;
- Diarrhea Group alternating with Constipation Group;
- Mixed type alternating with occasional complication and diarrhea.
“Most IBS patients present with abdominal discomfort – particularly pain in the lower abdomen, either on the left or right side – along with constipation or diarrhea symptoms,” Dr. Suriya says. “In some cases the patient has loose stools or diarrhea continuously for many days, which adds to his or her discomfort and anxiety. But a patient with IBS-related constipation or bound belly experiences symptoms differently than from general digestive problems. For example, a patient with a general disorder will have abdominal pain or dis-comfort simultaneously. However, after defecation, abdominal pain or discomfort symptoms diminish.”
Patients with IBS symptoms have no other key indicators of a dangerous condition, such as fecal mucus or bloody stools, weight loss, vomiting, decreasing size of stools or rectal tenesmus (a feeling of constantly needing to pass stools).
“Most IBS patients visit a doctor presenting stomach pain and abdominal discomfort—particularly pain in the lower abdomen, either on the left or right side—along with constipation or diarrhea symptoms,”
Dr. Suriya Chakkapak
Causes and diagnosis IBS
Although IBS is the most frequently diagnosed bowel disease, the medical community has still not been able to identify its cause definitively. Doctors’ best estimate is that some unknown mechanism causes nerve sensitivity in gastrointestinal motility (the movement of food through the digestive system) in the alimentary canal.
Despite not knowing the root cause, physicians now understand more about IBS’s characteristics and effects so can better diagnosis it. “To diagnose, we start with blood and stool tests, the patient’s medical history and whether family members have colon cancer or gastrointestinal cancer,” Dr. Suriya says. “These procedures enable us to separate and classify symptoms to be sure that the patient has IBS.”
Regarding using endoscopy (a tubular camera device that looks inside the digestive tract) to diagnose, Dr. Suriya says it’s not necessary if the patient has no obvious risk factors for more serious conditions. Risk factors that do indicate performing a colonoscopy include the patient being over 40 years old, which raises the risk for colon cancer, or a history of constipation for long periods.
After these various examination procedures rule out a serious physical disorder, a doctor can then diagnose the patient with IBS.
Since IBS has no clear cause, the attending doctor focuses on treating the patient’s symptoms, such as prescribing laxatives, medicines that relieve abdominal cramps, antacidsand antidiarrheal regimens. Keep in mind, however, that these treatments do not eliminate the underlying cause of IBS.
Therefore, the patient may have to endure these symptoms repeatedly.
Dr. Suriya suggests that since IBS’s cause is unknown, patients should avoid risky behaviors that may lead to functional bowel disorder, such as:
- Unhealthy eating habits, including irregular eating patterns (for example, skipping breakfast), taking high-fat and fast foods, or foods with little or no fiber;
- Habits or activities that cause continual stress and anxiety;
- Allowing abdominal pain to go untreated to the point where it becomes a chronic symptom.
“Patients must be attentive to their condition and avoid behaviors that cause and aggravate IBS symptoms,” advises Dr. Suriya. “For example, if you have stomach pain after eating fat-rich foods, then you should avoid them. Also, to prevent gastrointestinal tract infections and their symptoms, avoid unclean food and water.”
Change your behaviors; it helps
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not a life-threatening disease nor is it a signal of cancer. Patients with IBS can enjoy long lives, but enduring these on-and-off aliments results in poorer quality of life. Because the symptoms cannot be completely cured, most IBS sufferers are in a state of ongoing stress worrying that they have a more serious disease. In practical terms, for example, IBS-related diarrhea interferes with patient’s daily lives because they have to go to the restroom so often.
“The best method to cope with IBS is to not think that it’s a dangerous disease,” Dr. Suriya says. “The more stress you have, the worse the symptoms get. Along with treatments doctors prescribe to relieve symptoms patients should adjust their behaviors in order to lessen symptoms and reduce the frequency of IBS-related events,” Dr. Suriya concludes. Irritable Bowel Syndrome requires time to cure. Knowing and understanding this disease helps people have a better quality of life.
“How can I avoid IBS?”
Irritable Bowel Syndrome results in poor quality of life for the 10 percent of people that suffer from it, from youngsters to adults, particularly, those of working age that live in urban areas.
If you wish to avoid chronic ailments caused by IBS, follow this simple and common sense advice:
- Treat yourself well and stay in good health by regularly taking exercise to build up your immunity against disease.
- Avoid situations that cause stress.
- Eat breakfast daily because that is the time when the colon functions best. Half an hour after finishing breakfast, take a walk to aid digestion until you feel the need to go to the restroom. This method will help the excretion cycle to return to normal.
- When you have to go, go! The urge to have a bowel movement lasts for only two minutes, usually. If you hold your bowel movement for too long the urge passes and the stool in your bowel becomes solid as the intestine absorbs its water content, which causes constipation.
- Eat a variety of all five food groups in proper quantities, especially fibrous foods, such as vegetables and fruits, which helpin the elimination process.