Irritable Bowel Syndrome (Spastic Colon)
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
It is a group of symptoms that occur due to lack of normal movement (too
fast or too slow) of food products through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract
or bowel. Common symptoms include lower abdominal pain, altered stool
frequency, constipation or loose watery stools, passage of mucus, bloating,
abdominal distention, and pain with intercourse.
How is IBS diagnosed?
Diagnosis is made on the basis of symptom patterns. Usually, x-rays and
other tests of the GI tract are normal. This is because the walls of the
GI tract are normal in structure, they just don't function or move food
along at a normal speed.
How common is it among women with pelvic pain?
IBS is present in over half of pelvic pain patients. This makes sense because the female
organs and bowel are both located in the lower abdomen.
What causes the pain?
It is thought that the pain results when the bowel stretches and/or contracts
so strongly that nerves in the bowel fire pain messages to the brain.
The pain ranges from mild to severe and can last for short or long periods
What can I do about it?
Studies have shown that adding fiber to your diet is the single most effective
treatment for IBS. In this country, we tend to eat a lot of processed
foods from which natural forms of fiber are removed. Foods that are high
in fiber include: Broccoli, corn, peas, spinach, beans, apples, prunes,
strawberries, bran breads or bran cereals, cornmeal and brown rice.
It is almost impossible to get the amount of fiber you need to treat
IBS from food alone. Supplementing the diet with a fiber-containing product
is usually necessary.
Why is dietary fiber important?
Dietary fiber keeps food moving smoothly through the GI test. Fiber tends
to soften the stool as it holds water. It also helps with loose stools
as the bulk slows down the passage of digested food and allows normal
stool to form. For this reason, fiber helps IBS patients with diarrhea,
constipation or both.
What is the best way to take fiber supplements?
Please check to make sure the product you buy contains psyllium. Metamucil,
Fiberall, Konsyl, "Natural Vegetable Powder" are common labels.
Do not use products containing cellulose, such as Citrucel, Fiber-Med,
or Fibercon, as research has shown that they are not effective for IBS.
Fiber wafers are available that contain psyllium but work best if you
drink a glass of liquid with them.
You can buy a flavored product and mix it with water or a plain product
and mix it with your favorite juice. There are now brands available that
do not have a thick texture. Some people prefer these -- one such brand
is "Sunrise Smooth" by Metamucil.
We suggest you start with one teaspoon two times a day. You can slowly
increase this to 1-2 tablespoons 2 times a day in a large 10 oz. ) glass
of water or juice. At first, many women report feeling bloated -- as they
adjust to the fiber, this feeling usually goes away. The single biggest
reason that fiber doesn't work is that people don't take it often enough
or long enough.
Does stress have anything to do with IBS?
As with many other medical conditions, stress often leads to a worsening
of the symptoms of IBS. It has been said that IBS has to do with what
you are eating and what is eating you. We all go through periods of increased
stress and we all have different ways of coping. Relaxation and stress
management techniques work well for reducing the symptoms of IBS.
Are there other benefits of taking daily fiber?
For people with IBS, the risk of certain colon diseases, for example diverticulitis,
is increased. Taking fiber on a daily basis reduces this risk and may
reduce the risk of colon cancer as well. Fiber has been shown to reduce
cholesterol levels in many patients.
Peer Review Status: Internally
Peer Review Date: 2004