Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is an intestinal disorder characterized by abdominal pain, gas, bloating and altered bowel habits. People with IBS can have either constipation or diarrhea, and many individuals alternate between the two. By definition, no other mechanical, inflammatory, infectious or biochemical intestinal disease is discernible in people with IBS. People with IBS, however, can identify factors, such as stress or certain foods, which make their symptoms worse. Caffeine is often blamed for aggravating IBS.
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IBS Is Relatively Common
Irritable bowel syndrome affects 10 to 15 percent of American adults, with women more likely to have the condition than men, according to "American Family Physician." IBS most commonly strikes between the ages of 30 and 50, when other bowel disorders such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease are also diagnosed. Although its symptoms overlap with other disorders, one distinguishing feature of IBS is its tendency to worsen following the consumption of certain foods, such as caffeine, fats or items sweetened with sorbitol.
Causes of IBS
The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but a 2005 review in “American Family Physician” discusses various potential physiologic causes, such as abnormal muscular activity, altered nervous stimulation or aberrant production of hormones and neurotransmitters within the gut wall. Most experts believe there is also a psychological component to IBS, and behavioral therapy or psychotherapy is sometimes recommended as part of a treatment program which could also include stress reduction, dietary modifications and medications.
Since IBS is primarily a disorder of bowel motility, any stimulus that alters bowel activity can potentially aggravate symptoms. A 2007 review in “Inflammatory Bowel Diseases” describes a method for treating IBS that uses a food and beverage intolerance-and-avoidance diet. The authors of this review list milk products, caffeine-containing products, alcohol, artificially-sweetened foods, fatty foods, fruit juices and a variety of other items that typically increase symptoms among IBS sufferers. MedlinePlus reiterates the need for IBS patients to avoid caffeine-containing foods, beverages and medications.
IBS is a fairly common problem that is often aggravated by specific foods in your diet. Caffeine is a frequent offender. However, not everyone with IBS notices a worsening of symptoms after consuming the same foods. If you have IBS, it may be helpful to keep a diary of those foods and beverages that seem to make you feel worse. If you cannot control your symptoms by avoiding the items that aggravate your symptoms, talk to your doctor or a dietitian who is experienced in dealing with IBS.