What is irritable bowel syndrome?
What causes this digestive disorder?
Several hypotheses are being investigated to explain the exact origins of IBS, although none have yet been able to explain the phenomenon as a whole. Here are some of the main theories:
- Abnormal contractions or spasms of the colon and intestines: This theory does not explain all situations, and it is difficult to determine whether the contractions are a cause or a consequence of the syndrome.
- A gastrointestinal infection: No study has yet been able to demonstrate the extent to which such an infection could trigger this disorder. What’s more, most people with this condition have no history of such ailments.
- Food intolerances, allergies or sensitivities: These are difficult to prove. To validate this hypothesis, certain food groups must be eliminated one by one to order to evaluate their impact on the symptoms. This process can only be done under the supervision of a doctor or nutritionist to avoid significant nutritional deficiencies and health risks.
- High sensitivity to intestinal pain: Called visceral hyperalgesia, this condition causes hypersensitivity to movement and gas in the intestines, even at normal frequency and intensity. In these situations, medications that decrease the perception of pain can be an effective treatment.
Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
How is IBS identified and treated?
- Blood tests: Check for the presence of anemia, diabetes or any change that could affect the digestive tract.
- Stool examinations: Check for calprotectin, blood, bacteria or parasites.
- Imaging tests: Identify potential ulcers, cancer, polyps (lumps on the intestinal lining) or other intestinal diseases.
- Food tests: Rule out lactose intolerance or celiac disease (related to an immune system reaction to gluten).
Treatments for IBS
There are many options for reducing the pain and symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome. It is often recommended to try different combinations of treatments to maximize the chances of recovery. The process is quite long and requires constant observation of symptoms in order to adjust the treatment as needed.
- Dietary change: This allows an observation of how the body reacts to all the foods that can affect digestion (e.g., cutting out lactose or increasing the amount of fibre in the diet).
- Medication: The medications currently available do not cure IBS, they merely act on the consequences, not the causes. They are used to relieve the symptoms of diarrhea, constipation or abdominal pain.
- Psychosocial therapies: Stress and anxiety are recognized as triggers or aggravators of irritable bowel syndrome. In these situations, some types of therapy can have a positive effect. Medical professionals may also prescribe anxiolytics or antidepressants, some of which have the dual benefit of reducing both the symptoms and sensation of abdominal pain.
- Physical exercise: Regular activity facilitates intestinal transit and can promote recovery. A healthy lifestyle is one of the most important factors in overcoming this condition.
Living with irritable bowel syndrome
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- , , ,  J Talley N. (August 2020). “Patient education: Irritable bowel syndrome (Beyond the Basics).” https://www.uptodate.com/contents/irritable-bowel-syndrome-beyond-the-basics?search=irritable%20bowel%20syndrome&topicRef=15457&source=related_link
-  Canadian Digestive Health Foundation. (2022). “Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).” https://cdhf.ca/digestive-disorders/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs/tests-and-treatment/