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Breaking the Silence on IBS Suffering
Look around. Are the people around you – or maybe even you yourself – suffering in silence? Might someone you know or love be living a chronic illness and not telling you for fear or embarrassment or awareness associated with their symptoms?

Each April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month in the United States. We all must unite to shine a light on this chronic disorder and help those suffering break their silence. How? By educating ourselves.

What is IBS?

IBS is a disorder of the colon, also called the large intestine, although other parts of the intestinal tract – even up to the stomach – can be affected.

When IBS occurs, the colon does not contract normally. Instead, it seems to contract in a disorganized, even violent manner. The contractions may be terribly exaggerated and last for prolonged periods of time. One area of the colon may contract with no regard to another. At other times, there may be little bowel activity at all.

While certainly painful and sometimes embarrassing, IBS is not a disease, nor is it contagious or cancer-causing. It is a functioning issue and usually presents before age 40 – sometimes as early as one’s teens.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of IBS are:
• Abdominal pain
• Diarrhea
• Constipation
• Bloating

Some patients also produce large amounts of mucus in the stool, but this is not abnormal.

What are the causes?

Certain foods including coffee, alcohol, spices, some raw fruits/vegetables and even milk can cause malfunction. In addition, infections, illnesses, weather changes and the premenstrual cycle in women can be associated with flare-ups.

Perhaps the most interesting causes of symptoms, however, are not in the colon at all. They’re in the brain.

By far, the most common factor associated with symptoms of IBS is the interaction between the brain and colon. Virtually everyone has had some alteration in bowel function when under intense stress or in conflict. However, people with IBS seem to have an overly sensitive bowel and perhaps an overabundance of nerve impulses flowing.

Treatment options

When specific foods are one’s trigger, complete avoidance is the simplest method to keep symptoms at bay. However, in most cases, patients need a complete diet overhaul – and sometimes medications – to ensure long periods of little to no pain or discomfort.

A diet high in roughage and bran is usually recommended. In recent years, the addition of prebiotics, which are a recently discovered form of soluble plant fibers, into one’s prescribed diet is also gaining popularity. These specially formulated soluble fibers stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the colon, producing a litany of health benefits. While not common in American diets, prebiotics supplements, such as Prebiotin, are available at most health food and vitamin stores.

Exercise is also helpful. During exercise, the bowel typically quiets down. If one exercises regularly, the bowel may relax even during non-exercise periods.

Contributed By Dr. Frank W. Jackson