Abdominal pain occurs for many reasons. 1 in 5 American adults have irritable
bowel syndrome (IBS). Yet many people are uncomfortable talking about
it because their symptoms may be too embarrassing.
No one knows exactly what causes irritable bowel syndrome. The walls of
the intestines are lined with muscles that contract and relax as they
move food through your intestinal tract. Normally, this occurs in a coordinated
rhythm. But if you have IBS the contractions may be stronger and last
longer than normal, like a spasm.
If you have IBS you are probably sensitive to stimuli that does not bother
other people. Triggers may include:
Foods: For instance, chocolate, milk and alcohol might cause constipation or
diarrhea. Carbonated beverages and certain fruits and vegetables may lead
to more bloating and discomfort in some people with IBS.
If you experience cramping and bloating mainly after eating dairy products,
food with caffeine, or wheat products, the problem may not be IBS. Instead,
your body may not be able to tolerate the sugar (lactose) in dairy products,
caffeine, or the gluten in wheat flour.
Stress: If you’re like most people with IBS, you probably find that your
symptoms are worse during stressful events.
Symptoms such as onset after age 50, weight loss, vomiting, rectal bleeding,
or fever are red flags that should prompt you to visit your doctor for
Because it’s not clear what causes irritable bowel syndrome, treatment
focuses on the relief of symptoms so that you can live your life as normally
as possible. In most cases, you can successfully control mild symptoms
of irritable bowel syndrome by learning to manage stress and changes in
your diet and lifestyle such as:
Fiber supplements: Taking fiber supplements such as psyllium (Metamucil) or methylcellulose
(Citrucel) with fluids may help control constipation.
Anti-diarrheal medication: Over-the-counter medications such as loperamide (Imodium) can help control diarrhea.
Eliminating high-gas foods: If you have bothersome bloating or are passing
significant amounts of gas, your doctor may also ask you to cut out such
items as carbonated beverages, salads, raw fruits and vegetables, cabbage,
broccoli and cauliflower.
Stress reduction: Exercise, meditation, yoga, and counseling with a therapist can be helpful.
If these measures prove unsuccessful, your doctor may recommend prescription
medications. Fortunately, most people with
IBS find their symptoms improve as they learn to control the condition.