As many as one in four people are estimated to have irritable bowel syndrome. While this intestinal disorder has no cure, it is highly manageable with proper treatment. Symptoms of IBS include abdominal cramping, gassiness and bloating, and often diarrhea. Although unpleasant and possibly embarrassing, irritable bowel syndrome is not a progressing disease and does no permanent damage.
What causes irritable bowel syndrome is unclear. When someone has the condition , their colon is unusually sensitive to stimuli, called triggers. A variety of foods can cause reactions, and which ones vary from patient to patient. Menstruation can also induce or worsen an IBS flare. Common IBS triggers include:
- Dairy products
- Spicy foods
- Foods that produce gas
More than half of people with IBS are diagnosed before age 35, and most sufferers are women. A disproportionate number of patients are veterans returning from the Persian Gulf. Stress seems to be a significant factor in the development of irritable bowel, and this is believed to be part of the reason the condition is so prevalent among the veteran population.
There is no cure for the disease, but the symptoms can be managed. Patients are advised to avoid foods that they find triggering. Dairy is a very common culprit, and lactase supplements can minimize the adverse effects. Treatment generally focuses on the symptoms—fiber for constipation, anti-diarrhea medications, medications called anticholinergics for bowel spasms. There are some drugs that treat the condition more directly, but they are only recommended for severe cases.