I guess it might seem strange that I don't discuss both of the IBSes in equal weighting. Though that might be a blessing in a way, as Irritable Bowel Syndrome - IBS-bleh - involves far fewer pictures of cake, flowers and other pretty things...
It's certainly true that IBS-bleh gets less air time because it's the sort of thing that is symptomatically only ever embarrassing (like an episode of 'Embarrassing Bodies' all about ME!!). So to discuss it properly, I would either share the indignities that are my bodily functions or talk about theoretical gross things that happen to sufferers in general. Not. Dinner. Conversation.
And to be honest, I think about IBS-bleh way less than IBS-bake! Most of my spare thoughts run towards cake designing and Thai cooking (or whichever recipe book I have my nose in), rather than how to not feel unwell by the end of the day.
But that doesn't mean there aren't days (if you follow my double-negatives) where it's hard to think of much else beyond the bleh...
Like last week: I felt the effects of eating a few pieces of pear and apple three days after the fact.
Since I haven't really covered the topic since my first post, I thought it was about time to delve into the what (and a little of the why) of Irritable bowel. So let's take a break from the endless cake & baking photos and dive right in! I'm in the mood, after all...
IBS-bleh: Symptoms are the guts of it
According to the New Zealand Health Navigator website, IBS is "a common condition, affecting 1 in 5 to 1 in 10 people...[causing] a range of symptoms including abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation." Gosh, that's a lot of people - that means there's a reasonable chance that you, reader have experienced or are experiencing these symptoms, too. Especially if you're a female in your twenties like me -
And 'symptoms' are pretty much the guts (pun intended!) of IBS. Being a functional disorder of the large intestine, IBS doesn't change what this organ looks like (its structure). Therefore, the US Department of Health and Human Services, the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders and Dr Wiki(!) all agree that it is the symptoms which characterize this syndrome.
A spastic colon
Behind those symptoms uncomfortable cramping, unpleasant constipation and antisocial gas common for IBS sufferers is a colon going spastic. The video below is a good (not too gross) summary of what is happening in such bowels: the intestinal contractions that push waste through the colon happen faster, slower or more randomly than for a normal person (causing cramps and constipation or diarrhoea - or both!). In addition the inside of the intestines can be more sensitive to gas bubbles created during digestion (causing bloating and gas).
Video from NZ Health Navigator website
There are a number of possible causes for IBS but ultimately there's no decisive cause (noticing a pattern?!). It's generally believed that communication between the intestinal nerves and the brain is faulty for an IBS sufferer, as WedMD describes, however this is not well understood yet. This helpful brochure published by the University of Manchester puts forth some other theories for IBS developing or flaring up, including:
- An imbalance in gut bacteria
- High use of antibiotics or presence of a food intolerance
- Stressful situations or seasons in life
- Hypersensitivity of the gut to pain and/or pressure changes
- A link to hormonal cycles (perhaps why women are more likely to have IBS than men)
I remember hearing or reading around the time I developed IBS that it might be caused by a previous gut infection that I never recovered from, and so my intestines were doomed to spasm forevermore. I'm hopeful that it won't be lifelong, but each 'solution' I take has had a fail point so I'm less glib about it now...
To add to the nebulous nature of the beast, there is no single diagnosis test. Rather it's identified by eliminating the possibility of other illnesses: coeliac disease, lactose intolerance, diabetes, etc. This is often done via blood tests, but there are rectal exams or a colonoscopy for the very keen. As IBS sufferers don't usually have any obvious physical issues with their intestines these tests may be of limited use for diagnosing except to cancel out more serious diseases like inflammatory bowel disease and bowel cancer.
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So I've got this condition that is more a collection of symptoms than an illness, has no one specific cause, and no known treatment (more about that in another post. I'd forgive you for wondering if it were all in my head!
And although it's frustrating, very uncomfortable and sometimes even sore, I can't compare IBS with Crohn's and other IBDs. People with those burdens are a tougher lot than I am.
I'll leave you hanging with the problem defined, and follow-up at another time with some of the more positive stuff to help deal with IBS-bleh - and how I bake around it :-)