Diarrhea, constipation, changes in the frequency of evacuations, etc. Some people suffer from these symptoms, some more than others. It turns out that these may be signs of a chronic disorder that needs to be addressed by doctors.

If you suffer from some symptoms and wonder what it could be, we recommend reading the following article, with information on irritable bowel syndrome or IBS.

What is irritable bowel syndrome?

IBS, also known as irritable bowel syndrome (or formerly colitis nervosa ), is a disorder of the digestive system characterized by nonspecific symptoms, usually diagnosed when other diseases are ruled out.

Highlights : IBS is more common in women than men . The prevalence of this medical condition is higher in South and Central America, although it is also common in North America and Europe. (1)

What symptoms does irritable bowel syndrome cause?

The clinical presentation in patients is very varied. In certain people, one symptom is more common than in others. Next, we will explain the most frequent ones.

1. Abdominal pain

The pain is chronic and recurring , and can intensify after eating certain foods (food intolerance, for example to dairy products, is a common comorbidity) (2) . The pain is also dynamic, since over time it can radiate to other areas of the abdomen, accompanied by cramps and discomfort.

Important : Pain generates lifestyle changes and can induce emotional changes, such as anxiety and even symptoms of depression.

2. Changes in bowel function

In certain people, intestinal motility changes are more common than abdominal pain . In men, it is more frequent that diarrhea occurs and in women, constipation. 

Note: Endogenous factors, such as increased permeability and sensitivity of the small and large intestines, appear to be related.

3. Inflammation and gases

Abdominal distension is also not uncommon. Most people report that the discomfort starts after eating certain foods . Fermentable carbohydrates, such as fructose , galactose, and sugar alcohols , have an osmotic effect and exacerbate fermentation.

4. Alterations in the stool

The same intestinal and osmotic alterations modify the consistency of the stools . In fact, the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome is based, in part, on changes in stool consistency at the same time that recurrent abdominal pain has started .

You should know : The presence of blood in the stool , known as melena , is an alarming sign of this syndrome where the person requires immediate medical attention (3) . In these cases, doctors order a series of tests, such as a metabolic profile or markers of inflammation.

5. Nausea and vomiting

These are symptoms that appear with some frequency as well. It is important to keep in mind that the presence of blood in the vomit ( hematochezia ) is another alarming sign that indicates bleeding from the upper or lower part of the digestive tract.

6. Anemia

In IBS, there are alterations in the mucosa of the small intestine (the damage is not only functional, but also structural), so that the absorption of nutrients is impaired 

To highlight: Iron deficiency anemia (iron deficiency anemia) is the most common form. People experience weakness, tiredness, and loss of muscle strength. Of course, modifying the quality of life of patients.

7. Weight loss

The same nutrient malabsorption induces an involuntary weight loss . The discomfort and pain can increase after eating, so it also causes eating disorders such as anorexia (decreased appetite).

How long do the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome last?

According to the current criteria used for the diagnosis of the syndrome ( Rome IV criteria ), the patient must have experienced abdominal pain at least once a day, during the last 3 months , accompanied by two out of three of the following conditions (4 ) :

  • The pain decreases, or not, after the evacuation .
  • It is associated with a change in the frequency of evacuations.
  • It is associated with a change in the shape and appearance of the stool .

How to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome?

Although there is no definitive cure, health professionals recommend a series of changes in your diet and lifestyle , in order to reduce the intensity of IBS symptoms. Here are some measures to control the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome: 

1. Acquire a healthy diet

This includes fiber supplements , especially in those with constipation or diarrhea . However, you must be careful, since in some people these can exacerbate the symptoms. 

Note: The supplements that show the most notable improvements are those based on polycarbophilic compounds (Citrucel and FiberCon).

On the other hand, in those with constipation, abundant consumption of water is recommended . In addition, certain studies have seen improvement with the adoption of diets low in fermentable carbohydrates, such as disaccharides or oligosaccharides ( the FODMAP diet ), although more studies are still required. (5) (6)

2. Avoid trigger foods

As we mentioned before, certain foods are counterproductive , they increase sensitivity and discomfort in your intestines. These are:

  • Whole grain foods (for example, whole wheat bread).
  • Legumes (increase swelling).
  • Lactose (also increases gas production and bloating).
  • Spicy food.
  • Caffeine (tends to exacerbate feelings of anxiety).

4. Perform physical activity

Pharmacological treatment is useful, but it has its limitations. Therefore, professionals have focused on other angles. Aerobic physical exercise , such as walking or cycling , can help relieve constipation, bloating, and constipation symptoms. 

You should know: Exercise can help control a person’s stress, depression, and anxiety (7) . Of course, it is important that you consult with a professional doctor, on what type of exercises are most recommended for you, based on your age and physical condition, as well as their intensity.

5. Manage stress 

The psychological angle of this syndrome cannot be ignored. Psychological distress , whether caused by IBS or by other reasons, exacerbates the symptoms. 

In fact, in a study published in Research in Nursing & Health , it was observed that female patients with IBS present greater severity of symptoms the greater their psychological history. (8)

Important : The use of psychological therapies can help reduce stress levels, modify the visceral perceptive threshold and, therefore, IBS symptoms. (9)

6. Rest properly

If you have IBS, or similar symptoms, it’s important to get enough rest . Daily stress is usually exhausting and has repercussions on health, regardless of healthy people or those with some kind of medical condition. 

Tip: We recommend the use of relaxation therapies (previously approved by a professional), in addition to the above recommendations, to improve your quality of life .

7. Go to the doctor if necessary

If you suspect that you have this syndrome, or suffer from similar symptoms that have deteriorated your daily routine, we recommend contacting your doctor, preferably as soon as possible . Depending on your condition, they may request a series of tests for a more complete evaluation. Your health is important .

Key Findings

  • Irritable bowel syndrome is a clinical entity that affects the small intestine and large intestine.
  • This syndrome is characterized by various symptoms , including evacuation disorders (such as diarrhea or difficulties in evacuating), involuntary weight loss, nausea, vomiting, etc.
  • There are a number of foods that can cause symptoms or exacerbate them, such as caffeine, lactose, spicy foods , or whole wheat bread.
  • Moderate exercise, modifications to your diet, medications, psychological treatment , and relaxation time are some measures that you can implement to reduce the symptoms of the syndrome.

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