Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder of the lower digestive tract that results in abnormal bowel habits and abdominal pain/discomfort. People with IBS suffer from recurrent episodes of abdominal pain coupled with diarrhea and/or constipation. “Spastic colitis,” “irritable colon,” and “nervous stomach” are names for the problem. The majority of patients simply endure their symptoms, never bothering to seek help from a doctor. Others are so plagued by the disorder that they are reluctant to leave home during an attack because they are in too much pain, or else they fear they will not being able to find a bathroom quickly enough.
In irritable bowel syndrome, the muscles of the bowel wall go into spasm. During normal digestion, regular contractions of the muscles in the wall of the digestive tract propel contents along—an action called peristalsis. In IBS, however, this motion (or motility) is hindered by spasms that result in diarrhea or constipation. While things like diet and stress can trigger intestinal spasms, the root of the problem appears to be the way the brain and bowel communicate. Recent research suggests that IBS patients have a more heightened awareness of pain in their digestive systems than do people without IBS. This sensitivity seems to be what triggers the intestinal spasms, and is the basis of abdominal pain/discomfort.
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