IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) is a very common gastrointestinal disorder that affects 1 in 7 people around the world. Commonly called “spastic colon” in the past, abdominal pain and abnormal bowel habits (constipation, diarrhea or a mixture of both) are amongst some of the key features of IBS.
It is interesting to note that disorders such as anxiety, major depression and chronic fatigue syndrome are common among people with IBS.
IBS is twice as common in women as men and typically occurs before the age of 45 and the condition appears to become less common with age.
The first description of the condition goes back to 1820 while the current term irritable bowel syndrome came into use in 1944.
Let’s dig a bit deeper in what could cause IBS and why so many people around the world suffer from this modern disease.
What causes IBS?
While the causes of IBS are still not completely understood, it is believed that the entire gut-brain axis is playing a huge role in this disease, as well as what you’re eating and even bacterias in your digestive system.
Let’s have a look at those different factors:
The brain factor:
The “gut-brain axis” is the term used for the communication network that connects your gut and brain.
These bi-directional interactions between your brain and your gut are important in maintaining normal bowel function. They also respond to any potential disturbance or stressor.
You probably already have experienced this indescribable “gut feeling” or “butterflies in your stomach” and this illustrates very well the connection between your brain and your gut.
It is commonly said that the belly is the second brain and that’s for a reason – we store so many emotions down there.
Strong and deeply seated emotions like anger, stress, anxiety and depression trigger chemicals in the brain that turn on pain signals in your gut.
Those emotions will probably not cause IBS itself but you might want to have a look deep inside yourself and get help to face the fears, traumas and other negative energies you avoided until now. Many research shows that tending to your mental health and to connect to your emotions may help improve your symptoms.
It is now very clear that people who suffer from IBS are sensitive to food, though very few have a food allergy, most people with IBS have what is called food intolerance -symptoms in up to 90% of people are brought on by food intolerances.
Food intolerance occurs when your gut is abnormally sensitive and reacts to foods that trigger spasms and distend it with gas or fluid.
You can read more about fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPs), by clicking here (insert a link to FODMAP diet).
Other common factors:
As we already mentioned it, the causes of IBS are not clear.
Theories also include combinations of pain sensitivity, infections including small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, neurotransmitters, genetic factors as well as:
- Gut sensitivity: People with IBS may have a more sensitive gut – this is sometimes called “visceral sensitivity”.
- Altered gut motility: the contents of the gut may move unusually quickly or slowly – this is sometimes called “altered gut motility”.
- Bacterial: people with IBS may have an imbalance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in their gut – this is sometimes called “dysbiosis”.
- Leaky gut: people with IBS may have a slightly inflamed or “leaky” gut that is not readily detected on usual testing.
- Infections: sometimes IBS starts after a severe gut infection such as gastroenteritis – often termed “gastro”.
- Hormones: women are twice as likely to have IBS, which might indicate that hormonal changes play a role. Many women find that signs and symptoms are worse during or around their menstrual periods.
As you can see, the causes, triggers & factors for IBS are diverse and multiple, that it’s why it is very important that IBS should not be “self-diagnosed”.
Instead, if you suspect you have IBS, consult with your medical doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Getting a diagnosis is important to rule out other more serious conditions, such as coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease and endometriosis.
Your doctor will look for a certain pattern in your symptoms over time.
IBS is a chronic disorder, meaning it lasts a long time, often years.
However, the symptoms may come and go and if you are diagnosed with IBS, you will be able to choose treatments that are best targeted to your condition.