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What is IBS?

Irritable Bowel syndrome is a common digestive disorder. It is thought that maybe 25% of the population is affected but nobody really knows the exact figures because of the embarrassment in asking for help. Relationships can suffer and quality of life is affected because people become preoccupied with their condition and it starts to rule their lives. Individuals with IBS frequently feel as if they have lost control of their life and they just want to “become normal” again. They also may have additional suffering because they feel unable to join in with their family and friends and some sufferers become hopeless about their situation believing there is no cure. In 10% of cases, symptoms are severe enough to interfere with normal life. It affects both men and women equally and although it can occur at any age, it most commonly starts between the ages of 15 and 40.

Stress is a major factor in IBS although it is not thought to cause it. Sufferers have a bowel that over-responds when stressed. Messages received from the brain cause the intestinal muscles to expand or contract. Stress can affect this normal function. IBS prevents the colon from contracting normally so instead of emptying the bowel, it spasms. These spasms can last for prolonged periods of time and result in changing bowel patterns with constipation being common. IBS can entail bouts of urgent diarrhea, episodes of chronic constipation, or a pattern of alternating between the two. Other symptoms include bloating and in extreme cases, stress can shut down the digestive system altogether. People with IBS have a hypersensitive bowel and their pain threshold is lowered.

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