Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder characterized by chronic or recurring diarrhea, constipation or a mix of both, along with cramping, bloating and excess gas. The signs and symptoms are highly variable, but this functional disease can be a source of anxiety and depression to its sufferers. However, could the reverse also be true – can emotional stress be a factor in the outcome of the disease?

What causes IBS?

The causes for IBS remain poorly defined, but various theories have been proposed. The most widely accepted cause, is an ailment of the nerve supply of the gut, resulting in either excess contraction of the intestines and their decreased motility. The factors responsible for this response varies, but the most common triggers include:

*Food allergy: Certain people seem to have a correlation between food and severity of symptoms. It is associated with a wide range of foods such as chocolate, spices, fats, fruits, beans, milk, sodas and alcohol.

*Stress: Symptoms may flare up in stressful situations. However, a direct causal relationship has not been established.

*Hormones: Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from IBS. A hormonal link may be present.

*Infections: Sometimes bacterial overgrowth or viral gastroenteritis can serve as a source of IBS symptoms.

How can IBS be managed?

Although an exact cause has not been established, most cases can be managed by diet, lifestyle changes and medication.

*Dietary changes: A high fiber diet can help alleviate constipation. Drinking plenty of water is essential both to ease bowel movements, as well as to replace water lost from excess bowel movement. Avoid foods that seem to trigger symptoms.

*Psychological support: Counselling and mild anti-depressant therapy have found to be helpful in a large number of patients. Meditation, relaxation techniques, and yoga also aid in the process.

*Visit to the doctor: While IBS rarely progresses to more serious conditions, its symptoms can be mimicked in some disease. Talk to your doctor if you have rectal bleeding, weight loss or abdominal pain that increases in the night.

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