How to Tell If I Have IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

A morning donut instead of your usual oatmeal, or a greasy burger and fries at lunch. Maybe you just had to have those jalapeno poppers at happy hour. Whatever you ate it was a bad choice that resulted in an upset stomach ranging from gas and bloating to discomfort. But these symptoms are common for anyone who eats these foods, because they are not easy to digest. IBS is different because it is a chronic condition, not just an occasional upset stomach because you ate something spicy.

IBS is short for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. IBS symptoms can vary greatly, causing bouts of constipation and then diarrhea. IBS is often accompanied by psychological symptoms, such as stress, pressure, anxiety, fears and worries. It is uncertain why people with IBS have trouble with their colon, which is what causes the alternation between constipation and diarrhea. The main difference between an occasional upset stomach and IBS is that your stomach ache/pain is accompanied by a change in your bowel movement, such as diarrhea or constipation and this occurs on an ongoing basis.

In some cases, IBS is linked to food intolerance, such as lactose intolerance. This is where you may have difficulty digesting dairy resulting in gas, bloating, stomach discomfort and diarrhea. To discern whether or not food intolerance is causing your IBS, doctors recommend keeping a food journal to chronicle what you eat and drink to see if there are any recurring incidents. IBS can also occur with food sensitivities, such as FODMAPs and other conditions like fibromyalgia.

Definitive causes of IBS are unknown, but one theory is that it is linked to the brain chemical serotonin. Although serotonin is best known for its mood regulation, much of it is located in the gut not the brain. Doctors theorize that when too much serotonin is released, it can cause IBS symptoms including stomach pain, cramps and diarrhea. These symptoms can sometimes be alleviated with antidepressant drugs, which work to help regulate serotonin.

Another theory behind the cause of IBS is an overgrowth of gut bacteria that occurs in the bowel. These patients may benefit from antibiotics, which stop the bacterial growth.

IBS is most common in young adults around the ages of 18-35. In older patients, similar symptoms can be a cause for greater alarm and may signify serious health issues. Oftentimes people with IBS suffered from abdominal pain in childhood, but without a directly known cause. Although IBS is unpleasant and inconvenient, it often disappears on its own especially when stress is lessened and foods that trigger episodes are eliminated from the diet.

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