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In the world of digestive health , Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a subject that remains quite intriguing . And there is growing interest in this functional gastrointestinal disorder due to its associated varied and often disturbing symptoms .
But then, in concrete terms, what is IBS? Causes, symptoms, diagnostic techniques: what you need to know about it in this article.
What is this ?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) , also known as functional colon disease , is a functional gastrointestinal disorder, which affects the large intestine (colon). It is characterized by chronic symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, changes in bowel habits (constipation, diarrhea or an alternation of the two), or even a feeling of gas.
IBS is a fairly common disorder today, it is estimated that it affects between 5 and 10% of the French population . And if it can appear at any age, it is a priori more common in women than in men.
Although not serious, Irritable Bowel Syndrome still represents significant discomfort for people affected by it, particularly due to chronic and recurring pain .
What are the causes ?
Even today, the exact causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome are not completely understood. However, generally, it is considered a multifactorial disorder : it is the result of a complex combination of factors (both physical and psychological). Here are some elements that could contribute to the development of the SII:
- Gut motility problems : The normal, coordinated movements of intestinal muscles help move digested food through the digestive system. But in people with IBS, these movements may be too strong or too weak, which can then lead to problems with intestinal transit.
- Increased sensitivity of the colon : People with IBS may have a more fragile colon, which overreacts to stimuli (which do not cause a reaction in other people).
- Previous intestinal infections : in some cases, IBS can be triggered by past intestinal infections (example: gastroenteritis). These infections can in fact cause changes in the functioning of the digestive system, which persist even after their treatment.
- Genetic factors : If family members have intestinal problems, there may be some genetic predisposition to IBS.
- Psychosocial factors : if they do not represent a cause in themselves, certain elements can worsen the symptoms of IBS, such as stress, anxiety or even depression.
How do you know if you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Symptoms of IBS
Just like the causes, the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome can vary from one person to another (depending on each person's specific characteristics). And to this is added the fact that these symptoms can also evolve over time . Additionally, symptoms may be intermittent, with periods of improvement and worsening.
Below is a list of the most common symptoms of IBS:
- Abdominal pain or cramps : This is arguably one of the most common symptoms of IBS. Their intensity and location can vary completely.
- Changes in intestinal habits : here we can talk about constipation (difficulty passing stools, hard and less frequent stools than normal), diarrhea (episodes of liquid and frequent stools), or even an alternation between constipation and diarrhea depending on the individual.
- Bloating : this feeling of abdominal bloating is due to gases accumulated in the digestive tract.
- Gas : In people with IBS, there may be more gas than normal, which contributes to bloating.
- A feeling of incomplete emptying : some people, after going to the toilet, feel a feeling of incomplete emptying.
- Increased sensitivity in the abdomen : Depending on individuals with IBS, they may also feel increased sensitivity or even pain when pressure is placed on their abdomen.
Finally, remember that Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a chronic disorder, but it does not cause permanent damage to the colon and does not increase the risk of serious illnesses such as colon cancer.
Getting diagnosed with IBS
The diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome is generally carried out in several stages , during which it is essential to be accompanied by a health professional to be able to have a precise assessment of your situation. To explain how this is done, here are the common steps that help diagnose IBS.
- Medical consultation : if you experience persistent symptoms like those mentioned above in this article (i.e. abdominal pain, changes in bowel habits, bloating, etc.), it is advisable to consult a doctor. This could be your GP, a gastroenterologist or even a specialist in digestive diseases.
- History : the doctor will begin by collecting precise information on your medical history, as well as on your symptoms (and their evolution if there has been one), your diet, your lifestyle habits, and any other factor that could influence your your gut health.
- Diagnostic criteria : the diagnosis of IBS is largely based on specific criteria such as those of Rome, the doctor will use them to evaluate your case and direct his diagnosis towards this syndrome or not. The Rome Criteria correspond to abdominal pain, associated with at least two other criteria among: a change in the frequency of stools, a change in appearance of the stools, relief at the time of defecation.
- Exclusion of other conditions : Since the symptoms of IBS may resemble those of other gastrointestinal disorders, the doctor may recommend tests to rule out other possible causes. This could be, for example, blood tests, stool tests, or even endoscopies or colonoscopies.
- If specific tests are needed : in certain cases, the doctor may also ask the patient to carry out specific tests. These will allow him to assess intestinal function and sensitivity a little more precisely.
Today, you can easily find matches (more or less true) to your symptoms on the Internet, but be careful because self-diagnosis can be misleading! Hence the need to consult a health professional not only to obtain a precise and fair assessment of your case, but also to be able to develop an appropriate management plan.
In short, Irritable Bowel Syndrome still remains a real challenge for people who suffer from it today. Indeed, if we know the main causes of this multifactorial and complex disorder , it can significantly impact quality of life due to its symptoms (abdominal pain, bloating, etc.). And it is only with a suitable medical consultation that it can be detected. Concerned ? Do not wait !