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What you need to know: April is IBS Awareness Month

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects the large intestine. Signs and symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas diarrhea and/or constipation.

IBS is a chronic condition that will need to be managed long-term.

Only a small number of people with IBS have severe signs and symptoms. Some people can control their symptoms by managing diet, lifestyle and stress. More severe symptoms can be treated with medication and counseling.

IBS doesn’t cause changes in bowel tissue or increase your risk of colorectal cancer.

The signs and symptoms of IBS vary. The most common include:

— Abdominal pain, cramping or bloating that is typically relieved or partially relieved by passing a bowel movement

— Excess gas

— Diarrhea or constipation — sometimes alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation

— Mucus in the stool.

Most people with IBS experience times when the signs and symptoms are worse and times when they improve or even disappear completely.

See your doctor if you have a persistent change in bowel habits or other signs or symptoms of IBS. They may indicate a more serious condition, such as colon cancer. More serious signs and symptoms include:

— Weight loss

— Diarrhea at night

— Rectal bleeding

— Iron deficiency anemia

— Unexplained vomiting

— Difficulty swallowing

— Persistent pain that isn’t relieved by passing gas or a bowel movement.

The precise cause of IBS isn’t known. Factors that appear to play a role include:

— Muscle contractions in the intestine. The walls of the intestines are lined with layers of muscle that contract as they move food through your digestive tract. Contractions that are stronger and last longer than normal can cause gas, bloating and diarrhea. Weak intestinal contractions can slow food passage and lead to hard, dry stools.

— Nervous system. Abnormalities in the nerves in your digestive system may cause you to experience greater than normal discomfort when your abdomen stretches from gas or stool.

Poorly coordinated signals between the brain and the intestines can cause your body to overreact to changes that normally occur in the digestive process, resulting in pain, diarrhea or constipation.

— Inflammation in the intestines. Some people with IBS have an increased number of immune system cells in their intestines.

This immune system response is associated with pain and diarrhea.

— Severe infection. IBS can develop after a severe bout of diarrhea (gastroenteritis) caused by bacteria or a virus.

IBS might also be associated with a surplus of bacteria in the intestines (bacterial overgrowth).

— Changes in bacteria in the gut (microflora). Microflora are the “good” bacteria that reside in the intestines and play a key role in health.

Research indicates that microflora in people with IBS might differ from microflora in healthy people.

IBS can be triggered by:

— Food. The role of food allergy or intolerance in IBS isn’t fully understood. A true food allergy rarely causes IBS. But many people have worse IBS symptoms when they eat or drink certain foods or beverages, including wheat, dairy products, citrus fruits, beans, cabbage, milk and carbonated drinks.

— Stress. Most people with IBS experience worse or more frequent signs and symptoms during periods of increased stress. But while stress may aggravate symptoms, it doesn’t cause them.

— 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.

Treatment of IBS focuses on relieving symptoms so that you can live as normally as possible.

Mild signs and symptoms can often be controlled by managing stress and by making changes in your diet and lifestyle. Try to:

— Avoid foods that trigger your symptoms

— Eat high-fiber foods

— Drink plenty of fluids

— Exercise regularly

— Get enough sleep

— Your doctor might suggest that you eliminate certain foods from your diet.

If you are concerned you may have IBS, contact your medical provider for more information.

Clark County Health Department supports families through a variety of programming and services, including nutrition therapy, family planning, immunizations, WIC, HANDS, community education events, Cooper Clayton smoking cessation, etc. For more information,  call 744-4482 or visit website at www.clarkhealthdept.org.