IBS is a chronic condition of the gut. Symptoms commonly include belly pain and discomfort, constipation and/or diarrhea, and feeling ‘bloated.’ AND these symptoms can’t be explained by another physical medical problem, such as colitis or gluten intolerance, for example.
Estimates for the cost of IBS in the US alone are up to 20 BILLION DOLLARS a YEAR, for treatments, doctor visits, and medication.
How common is IBS?
In the US, it is estimated that up to 20% of people suffer from IBS–this is HUGE!
Are there Tests for IBS?
There is no blood test for IBS, it is diagnosed based on symptoms and ‘criteria.’
What happens in IBS and how did I ‘GET it”?
The ’causes’ of IBS are what we call multifactorial. That means it isn’t usually just caused by a single thing or cause of irritable bowel syndrome, unlike some other diseases of the gut. Also, in IBS if we looked at the bowels/gut using imaging or under a microscope, we wouldn’t see anything ‘abnormal.’ That is why IBS is called a FUNCTIONAL ILLNESS, because with the naked eye, the structure looks normal, but the gut is NOT functioning properly. There are more subtle forces at play that cause IBS. These factors are a combination of environment, stress, diet, genes, emotions, and immune system factors.
Every person will have a DIFFERENT or UNIQUE combination of these factors–often there is one ‘most important’ contributing factor for a given person with respect to their IBS causes. However, because IBS is NOT caused by a single thing, the Holistic/Integrative treatment approach is needed!
There are many theories on causes of irritable bowel syndrome/ how you can ‘get it.’ The leading theories on IBS causes are explained here:
1. STRESS and IBS
The bowel’s ability to move material through the intestines gets messed up, which has been shown to be a common result of STRESS. This can be one of the most common causes of irritable bowel syndrome, so to speak.
The brain and the gut are closely connected. The gut has been called the ‘little brain’ because of it’s interaction with the brain and emotions. People with IBS have different responses to sensations in the bowels and more of the brain areas that produce the emotions of FEAR and ANXIETY light up in people with IBS than in those without IBS. This again is the reason why changing the STRESS response is so important in IBS so we can change the brain pathways too to produce less fear and anxiety and put the body into a CALM PEACEFUL STATE. The effects of stress on IBS and IBS symptoms is HUGE! Many IBS sufferers notice that when they are under more pressure at work or home, or going through a stressful experience, they get an IBS flare.
2. AFTER INFECTION in the GUT (called ‘gastroenteritis’ by doctors)
Another potential factor in IBS ’causes’ is gut infections and ‘bad’ bacteria outnumbering the ‘good’ ones. After a ‘stomach flu’ or GI illness where their was a bacterial infection, the natural ‘good bugs and bacteria’ in the gut can die off or get changed. The ‘bad bug’ or bad bacteria that caused the gut infection can also cause swelling and irritation in the gut. These things can all lead to IBS symptoms because the gut wall has been hurt or injured. This is why PROBIOTICS are advised after a gut infection/GI illness AND AFTER TAKING ANY ANTIBIOTIC PILLS for any type of infection to RESTORE the GOOD BUGS/BACTERIA. So, while their is no one bacteria that causes an ‘IBS flora,’ to take over the ‘normal flora,’ various bacteria that cause GI infections can ALTER the gut flora and potentially trigger irritable bowel syndrome.
Why do more women than men have IBS? There is a theory that increased estrogen may make IBS symptoms worse, and testosterone may protect against IBS. HOWEVER ESTROGEN DOES NOT CAUSE IBS–it just may make symptoms worse! (so technically this is not one of the causes of irritable bowel syndrome but just a potential trigger and association)