The gastrointestinal tract is a continuous tube that conducts food from the mouth to the anus. In the meantime, countless important reactions happen and many of them may suffer changes in the environment, genetics or even the action of microorganisms: the Irritable Bowel syndrome is one of these pathologies.
It turns out that, as the structures of this tube are very related to each other and are even innervated mostly by the same nerve – vagus nerve – symptoms of gastrointestinal diseases are very nonspecific, which makes it difficult to locate the pain and also to do the diagnosis. In this post, you will learn more about irritable bowel syndrome and its most common symptoms to know when you need to see a specialist. Good reading!
What is irritable bowel syndrome?
The irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects the large intestine, most commonly between 15 and 65 years old. Signs and symptoms include cramps, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation. IBS is a chronic condition, so you will need long-term care if you are diagnosed with the disease.
The good news is that, in most cases, the presentation of the disease does not happen in its severe form. Many patients manage their symptoms by managing diet, lifestyle and stress. If you have very severe symptoms, it is worth evaluating treatment with medication and medical monitoring.
What are the causes of the disease?
So, when is it possible to take care of yourself and when medical help is needed? Check out what can cause irritable bowel syndrome and find out!
Abnormal muscle contractions in the intestine
The walls of the intestine are lined with layers of muscles that contract while propelling food through the digestive tract. When these contractions are stronger or last longer than normal, they can cause gas, distension and diarrhea. When they are weak, they end up delaying the passage of food through the tube. As a result, the water in the stool is reabsorbed in excess, making it hard and dry.
Changes in the Central Nervous System
As already mentioned, a large part of the gastrointestinal tract is innervated by the vagus nerve. We say that it is one of the cranial nerves, because it originates in the brain, that is, at the top of the head.
Thus, poorly coordinated signals between the brain and the intestines – small and large – can cause your body to overreact to changes that normally occur in the digestive process, resulting in pain, diarrhea or constipation.
Inflammation of the intestines
Some people with the syndrome appear to have more immune cells in their intestines. For this reason, they produce an exacerbated response to stimuli, which causes pain and diarrhea.
In other cases, the syndrome can develop after a serious infection (gastroenteritis) or due to an excess of bacteria in the intestines. However, do not confuse pathological microorganisms with the organism’s native microflora.
Under normal conditions, bacteria native to the intestine (microflora) are not harmful to health, quite the contrary, recent research has shown that they are protective against this syndrome.
What triggers can trigger this syndrome?
Now that you’ve seen all the causes of the disease, check out her symptoms!
The role of food allergy or intolerance in IBS is not yet fully understood. Rarely an already diagnosed food allergy causes irritable bowel, however, many people seem to have worse symptoms when they eat or drink certain foods or drinks, including wheat, dairy products, citrus fruits, beans, cabbage, milk and fizzy drinks.
The symptoms of the syndrome appear to be aggravated and more frequent in individuals who are experiencing periods of greater stress .
It is not by chance that women are more likely to have IBS: it has already been observed that the symptoms appear to be worse, especially around the menstrual period, which points to a possible influence of hormones .
Are there any risk factors for the disease?
So far, we’ve talked about two risk factors for developing irritable bowel syndrome: being a woman and being young (under 50). In addition, having a family history of IBS may indicate greater risk, both by sharing environmental and genetic factors.
Much has also been invested in the influence of mental health problems on disorders of the gastrointestinal tract: as much of serotonin (a well-being hormone) is produced by the intestinal microbiota , anxiety, depression, a history of sexual, physical or emotional abuse may be risk factors. It is also common for people with this syndrome to report low quality of life.
What are the most common clinical manifestations?
Syndromes do not manifest themselves identically in all individuals, so it is important to understand that symptoms can vary from person to person. Most patients experience times when the signs and symptoms are worse and times when they improve or even disappear completely.
Below, you can find a list of the most frequent symptoms:
- abdominal pain, cramps or bloating;
- excess of gases;
- diarrhea or constipation;
- mucus in the stool.
When is it necessary to see a doctor urgently?
Some symptoms are known as warning signs and indicate that the disease may be complicated or that a more serious condition is present. In the following cases, it is recommended to seek a gastroenterologist:
- weight reduction;
- nighttime diarrhea;
- bleeding in the rectum region;
- iron deficiency anemia;
- vomiting of unknown cause;
- difficulty swallowing;
- persistent pain that is not relieved by passing gas or bowel movements.
How to prevent the disease?
Disease prevention is essential, especially for this group that we mentioned earlier. Continue reading to learn the main practices to avoid IBS.
Medical and psychological counseling
With professional help, you can make small changes in lifestyle, as well as learn to modify your responses to stress. Due to the interactions between emotional factors and bowel function, psychotherapy can provide a significant and lasting reduction in symptoms.
Progressive relaxation exercises
There are exercises that help to relax the muscles of the body, one by one. In yoga, for example, you can practice the contraction and relaxation that starts at the feet and passes through all the muscles until it reaches the eyes and scalp. These practices also help to reduce stress, as you focus on the present and forget about worries and distractions.
That said, if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, it is important to develop self-awareness and map out possible habits and emotional problems that interfere with your quality of life. Although treatment may require a multidisciplinary dialogue between endocrinologist, therapist and gastroenterologist, for example, the patient is always the protagonist of his own treatment, and must take lifestyle change seriously.