Medically Reviewed by Dr. David Costa Navarro
What is that
Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional bowel disorder due to disordered intestinal muscle activity. If it contracts too much, diarrhea appears; if it contracts poorly, constipation appears; if the muscles undergo prolonged contractions (spasms) pain occurs.
The disorder is therefore only “functional”, not due to anatomical modifications of the intestine. At one time this disorder was also indicated with the name of irritable bowel syndrome or mucous colitis, not to be confused, however, with ulcerative colitis in which ulcerative lesions of the intestinal wall are present.
The disorder is called ” syndrome ” in that there is a set of symptoms and/or signs which, manifesting together, form a specific disease. The syndrome is neither inherited nor contagious; it generally appears between 15 and 40 years of age and is more frequent in women.
How it manifests itself
Symptoms can vary from person to person, but typically consist of recurrent episodes of abdominal discomfort, pain and changes in bowel habits.
There may be meteorism (excessive intestinal gas formation), flatulence, nausea, headache, fatigue and a sense of general tiredness. The pain can be similar to a colic and affect delimited areas of the abdomen, or continuous. It can resolve after an evacuation. Periods of constipation and others of diarrhea can alternate. Stools often look like “pills”, sometimes with mucus. In other people, painless, sudden, post-meal diarrhea is the main symptom. Ailments can be made worse by inadequate diets, anxiety, depression, smoking, alcoholic drinks, insufficient exercise or stress. Episodes can last for days or months.
What should be done
The awareness that irritable bowel syndrome is a benign condition is often of paramount importance.
It is also good to:
- Recognize and avoid foods that cause disease symptoms.
- Take vegetable fibers (bran) or psyllio mucilages (eg Psylloplus, Psyllogel, Euchessinafibre, etc.) which can be of help for those suffering from spastic constipation.
- Try to reduce your stress level.
- Get enough rest.
- Perform regular physical activity to reduce anxiety levels and stimulate intestinal function.
- Do not smoke or take alcohol or drugs to resolve stress (for the possible use of drugs always consult your doctor).
- If flatulence is an important problem, avoid eating legumes and other vegetables containing fermentable substances.
- Patients with diarrhea as their main symptom should avoid foods that facilitate intestinal emptying. The use of any antidiarrheal drugs must be evaluated and prescribed by the doctor.
When to seek medical attention
- If symptoms do not improve despite treatment.
- If the stools take on a tarry appearance or are black, or contain blood or mucus.
- If you have had a significant weight loss for no plausible reason.
- It is important for those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome to periodically undergo a medical examination to rule out the onset of other intestinal diseases.