BOSTON , MA —Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects an estimated 24 million people in the United States . Experts aren't sure why, but 70% of sufferers are women. The March issue of the Harvard Women's Health Letter describes IBS as causing recurrent episodes of constipation or diarrhea along with cramps, bloating, and gas. However, many women describe their experience as more than “irritable”—it has caused some women to fear leaving their homes, where a bathroom is in close vicinity.
There is no test for irritable bowel syndrome. A doctor can usually make a diagnosis based on abdominal pain for more than 12 weeks accompanied by two of the following:
Relief of abdominal pain with defecation
A change in the frequency of bowel movements
A change in stool appearance
Passage of mucus
Disturbances in the nerves or muscles in the gut or abnormal processing of gut sensations in the brain may be responsible for causing IBS. The March issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch links stress with worsening IBS symptoms.
The following are the most common symptoms and their treatments:
Constipation. Bulking agents (fiber, bran and psyllium laxatives) help by moving waste through the intestines.
Diarrhea. Loperamide reduces intestinal muscle contractions and fluid secretion in the gut and relieves diarrhea, but not pain.
Gas and Bloating. No prescription or over-the-counter drugs have proven very effective. Avoid food triggers including beans, pretzels, bananas, dairy products, raw fruits, veggies, fructose and sorbital.
Understanding and treating an irritable bowel More