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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome is a nonmalignant and non-contagious irritation of the digestive track, usually the small or large intestine. The symptoms arise when the digestive tract undergoes abnormal contractions, which traps gas, causing pain, and may lead to diarrhea or constipation. The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome often begin in early adulthood or adolescence, though some people have had them since childhood. Many sufferers have triggers such as stress, the consumption of certain foods and alcohol, drug use or hormonal fluctuations like those that occur during the menstrual cycle.

Symptoms

Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can be nausea, bloating and gas, headache, backache, occasional appetite loss, alternating diarrhea and constipation, fatigue, depression, anxiety and heartburn. Symptoms can also be gas pains that radiate to the lower back, the chest, the neck and down the left arm, thus mimicking a heart attack, mucus in the stool, and a feeling of incomplete evacuation.

What It’s Not

There are some diseases whose discomforts mimic those of Irritable bowel syndrome. Diverticulosis or diverticulitis occurs when pouches develop in the lining of the colon and become inflamed. Crohn’s disease is a serious chronic inflammation where ulcers develop in the lining of the gut and allow blood, protein and other fluids to escape. Ulcerative colitis occurs when ulcers form in the large intestine. Colon cancer originates in the lining of the colon. Left untreated it can obstruct the bowel, metastasize and lead to death.

Treatment

A physical exam and laboratory studies such as stool studies can rule out the above diseases and other conditions like parasites if the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are present. Drugs used to alleviate irritable bowel syndrome include bulk laxatives, tranquilizers, antispasmodics, antidiarrheal drugs, and antidepressants. Avoidance of too much stress, increase of fiber in the diet, appropriate rest and exercise can also go a long way in alleviating the discomfort of irritable bowel syndrome.

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