A seemingly minor condition, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) may take a lifetime to manage and control. It happens to a small percentage of the population and is not considered serious. However, it can cause pain in the abdomen, and result in embarrassing flatulence after meals. It is often attributed to diet and lifestyle, but did you know that stress can also cause it?
IBS affects the large intestine. The exact cause of this condition is not known, however, there are certain triggers that might increase your risk of contracting the disorder.
If you suffer IBS, you will experience:
- Abdominal pain
- Painful cramps that last a few seconds to a minute each
- Gas that makes the abdomen taut and painful
- Bloating, especially after meals
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Mucus in the stools
- Foul-smelling stools
The signs and symptoms might appear suddenly and disappear just as abruptly. Certain foods and lifestyle habits might cause the above symptoms to show up. Doctors advise a complete overhaul of your diet and regular exercise to keep the condition under check.
What makes IBS worse?
There are certain factors that cause pain and discomfort if you are prone to IBS, or are already suffering from it:
- Prolonged muscle contractions in the intestine, which are stronger and cause bloating, gas and runny stools
- Inflammation, particularly in the intestines, when the number of immune system cells increase in number and cause pain and runny stools
- Bacterial overgrowth, in which the proportion of harmful bacteria in the gut overrides the number of good bacteria
How does stress play a factor?
In order to understand how stress contributes to IBS, let us first study the correlation between the nervous system and the digestive system.
Those prone to IBS will have some abnormalities in the nerves located in the digestive system, which make you feel moderate to severe pain while your food is being converted to gas or stool. The signals between the brain and the intestines are poorly coordinated, which makes your digestive system overreact even to seemingly normal processes in digestion. This overreaction results in pain, or changes in stool composition.
Meanwhile, stress contributes to this poor coordination of signals between the nervous and digestive systems. Increasing amounts of stress can throw the digestive process off kilter. It can also hamper the transmission of signals from the brain to other parts of the body. Hence, while stress is not the cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, it is certainly a contributing factor and a hidden trigger for the condition.
If it’s not IBS…
A person suffering from IBS is not at risk of colorectal cancer, stomach cancer or other serious ailments. It also does not cause changes in the bowel tissues or the muscles in the large intestine.
See your doctor at once if you notice any of these symptoms:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Bloody stools
- Rectal bleeding even when you don’t visit the washroom
- Unexplained vomiting in between meals
- Difficulty swallowing food, or keeping food down
- Constant pain in the abdomen that does not recede after passing gas or stools
These are symptoms of a more serious illness, such as colon cancer. Do not neglect or ignore these symptoms, and get started on treatment at once.
Though the condition might seem annoying at best, Irritable Bowel Syndrome must never be ignored or its treatment delayed. If you are lucky, the condition may resolve itself over time. If not, your doctor can advise you on dealing with it by making a few changes to your lifestyle and diet. More importantly, you must learn how to keep your stress under control so that you don’t exacerbate the condition further.