BENGALURU: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional disorder where a person suffers from abdominal pain along with changes in the bowel habits in the form of constipation or diarrhoea or both.
IBS can cause a lot of distress and can present with vague symptoms in between like bloating and incomplete evacuation of bowels. Although the person experiences a great deal of discomfort, on examination there will not be any alarming signs. The quality of life diminishes and this stresses the person more.
If you are one among the persons, irrespective of your age, are worried about eating out or partying or travelling due to any of these symptoms then there is a need for evaluation. While we are talking about constipation or loose stool, it also depends on previous normal frequency for the person and consistency of stools also plays a role. The possible causes of IBS is either due to dietary factors, psychological stress and hormones amongst others. The symptoms would be triggered by an emotional stress like exams, sleeplesness, new job, changes in the sleep-wake cycles; infections like gastroenteritis/food infection; dietary intake of products with lactose or drinks with artificial sweeteners, alcohol, caffeine; menstrual cycles to name a few.
IBS is usually a result of the above mentioned triggers which leads to abnormal contractions of the gut/intestines as a result of hypersensitive intestines to briefly describe the pathogenesis. Most importantly, before a person gets diagnosed as having IBS, the other treatable causes has to be excluded like few gut infections, ulcerative colitis and so on. For this a thorough history and clinical examination by your doctor is necessary.
Presence of rectal bleeding or blood mixed stools, decreased hemoglobin / anemia, unintentional weight loss, family history of cancers or if the person has decreased appetite and recurrent fever are not a part of IBS and has to be evaluated seperately. Few of these symptoms or otherwise if suggested by your doctor will need colonoscopy, which is a procedure done using a flexible fibreoptic tube to view colon (large intestine) for ideal diagnosis.
There are few misconceptions about IBS that it cannot be cured, it worsens with age, it can cause cancer, surgery is needed and so on which is completely false. Although IBS cure is not very clear but the symptoms can be completely controlled. The person needs to identify the trigger, to begin with- be it dietary products or stress; need to maintain the symptom chart or tracker. Usually combination therapies are helpful in addition to medications.
Dietary modifications that can be done is, avoiding person specific triggers and if not identified, avoidance of milk products like custard/paneer and start using lactose free products. Other foods to be avoided are the triggers described earlier and fatty foods, vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, onions; fruits like apple, apricots, pears, dates and also pulses/legumes.
Lifestyle modifications-including physical activity like running, cycling, walking or increasing the present exercise routine does help. Yoga postures like Marjariasana, Pavanamuktasana, Bhujangasana and Dhanurasana helps to ease the pain of IBS. Meditation or other relaxation techniques has been proven beneficial. Basically, a person with IBS can lead a normal life with normal life expectancy and all that is to be done is- Keep active, Eat right and find your ways to relaxa and de-stress, remember things that stress us out are everywhere and its our reaction that matters. Be smart in consulting a doctor when needed and avoid self medications. The author is a Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist at Narayana Multispeciality Hospital, Mysuru