The small and large intestines, collectively known as the bowels, are part of the digestive system. Different sections within the small and large intestines perform different functions. These different sections are essentially one long tube that extends through the body. A range of materials—primarily foods and liquids—pass through this system each and every day, any of which may cause irritation and inflammation to the organs and tissues they encounter. Chronic irritation and sensitivity or over-activity of the intestines is known as irritable bowel syndrome. Bothell’s Dr. Nicole Anderson routinely works with patients who either have a diagnosis for this condition or who think they may be dealing with it and are seeking answers and relief.
A sustained response is typically due to a sustained triggering factor. If you have irritable bowel syndrome—commonly referred to as IBS—there may be underlying infection, or a more likely explanation is that something you are routinely putting into your body is upsetting it.
Irritable bowel syndrome can have many negative side effects according to Bothell’s Dr. Anderson. Foods that trigger irritable bowel syndrome disrupt the proper function of the intestines, leading to problems with digestive health. The most common symptoms of IBS are abdominal discomfort and pain—specifically cramping and bloating. The frequency, consistency, and appearance of bowel movements will also likely change.
Because the gut is directly linked to the brain and immune system, the chronic inflammation of irritable bowel syndrome can also impact mental and emotional health, as well as seemingly unrelated organs and processes. Patients dealing with anything from chronic fatigue to arthritis to anxiety and depression can find that these problems lessen or resolve as they manage their IBS.
Diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome typically involves ruling out certain diseases and other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. For example, Crohn’s disease shares many symptoms with irritable bowel syndrome, because both involve inflammation in the intestines. Because of this, IBS is sometimes referred to as a “disease of exclusion,” with irritable bowel syndrome serving as the label for a collection of symptoms that can’t specifically be attributed to something else.
It is also important to note that not all symptoms common to IBS may be apparent at all times. It is possible for the intestines to be irritated and contributing to inflammation elsewhere in the body, but not obviously acting inflamed themselves.
To resolve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, it is crucial to determine what is being put into your system to cause them. Food allergies or sensitivity can be a factor, as can problems with gut flora, which is why modifying diet is an important and frequently effective strategy. Infections, stress, and hormone imbalances can also contribute to IBS. Natural supplements and stress-relieving activities and strategies can help.
The goal is to first identify the cause of the ongoing inflammation—whether it’s a particular type of food, another health condition, or a combination of the two—then to resolve and remove any identified triggers. When the body no longer works to maintain a sustained immune response, proper healing can begin—in the bowels and beyond.