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Doctor On Demand Blog

The brain controls all parts of our body, including our digestive system. When we’re constantly stressed, it releases cortisol throughout our system and it can potentially impact the health of our gut and may contribute to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

IBS is a very common condition, second only to the common cold when it comes to causing absences at work. If you have IBS, your symptoms might be making it difficult for you to engage in social settings or to be productive at work. Though you might be feeling frustrated and uncomfortable, there are a lot of ways that a healthcare provider can help you address IBS.

What is IBS and what causes it?

When a patient has conditions like Inflammatory Bowel Disease or Celiac Disease, physicians are able to see physical changes of the gut. IBS, on the other hand, is often called a “functional disorder of the gastrointestinal system.” This means that your bowel may look perfectly normal but the way it is working is affected.

While there isn’t a definitive cause for IBS, there are many theories. Some people may develop IBS after a severe infection. Studies have also shown that for people with IBS, there is an area of the inner brain that is more active compared to people who don’t have the condition. This part of the brain, known as the cingulate gyrus, sends signals back to the nervous system and your digestive tract in response to stress

What are some common symptoms?

People who have IBS may experience a range of symptoms, which include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Excessive flatulence or gas
  • Changes in the bowel function which can result in diarrhea or constipation (or some people experience both)
  • The increased urgent need to defecate

How is IBS diagnosed and treated?

Diagnosing IBS is usually done by ruling out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

Although there is no diagnostic test that can be taken for IBS, your doctor may order routine blood tests or give you a physical exam to make sure that you do not have another explanation for your symptoms. Your doctor might also recommend a diet to help you get a good balance of healthy bacteria in your gut.

Since there is a mind and body connection, your doctor may choose to prescribe medications that will help block the nerve stimulation your brain is sending to your bowels, or recommend anti-diarrheal drugs and antibiotics. Treatment for IBS can cover a spectrum of potential options from increasing your fiber intake to engaging in activities aimed at decreasing your stress. If symptoms are suspected to be stress related, a doctor may recommend muscle relaxation techniques, therapy, hypnosis, or yoga and medication. You can also count on spending some time modifying your diet to avoid the common food triggers.