Exactly what causes irritable bowel syndrome is currently unknown, but experts believe it may be related to increased gut sensitivity; problems with digestion, parasites and/or stress.
What Causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Problems with Digestion
Food is usually moved through the digestive system by the muscles of the intestines being squeezed and relaxed in a regular, rhythmic fashion. This process is thought to be altered in IBS sufferers, where food is subsequently moved through the digestive system either too slowly or too quickly.
If food is moved to quickly, the digestive system is not given adequate time to absorb the water contained in the food, which in turn causes diarrhoea. If, on the other hand, food is moved too slow, too much water will be absorbed. This causes constipation by making the sufferer’s stools too hard and subsequently difficult to pass.
It is possible that this failure to pass food properly through IBS sufferers’ digestive systems could be caused by a disruption in the signals travelling to-and-fro between the brain and the gut.
There have also been suggestions that issues like bile acid malabsorption (a build-up of bile, a product of liver functions, within the digestive system) could be what causes irritable bowel syndrome in some cases.
What Causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Increased Gut Sensitivity
Digestive system nerves relay messages to the brain to let a person know when they are hungry or full or need to visit the toilet. Some experts believe that over-sensitivity to these digestive nerve signals may be what causes irritable bowel syndrome in some sufferers. What may be experienced as a case of mild, barely noticeable indigestion by most people, for example, could become severe, distressing stomach (abdominal) pain for IBS sufferers.
What Causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Psychological Factors
Intense emotional states like stress and anxiety can trigger chemical changes capable of interfering with the digestive system’s normal workings. In some people, traumatic events such as, for instance, neglect, abuse or a serious illness during their childhood; bereavement or facing stressful situations like important interviews or exams have contributed to the onset of IBS.
What Causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Parasites
It appears that in 31 per cent of IBS cases, what causes irritable bowel syndrome is in fact the presence of common parasites like Dientamoeba fragilis or Blastocystis hominis, for example.
Food Intolerances and Allergies
While intolerance or allergy to certain types of food may not actually be what causes irritable bowel syndrome, they can certainly trigger IBS symptoms. Common triggers include, for instance, chocolate, fizzy drinks and alcohol; coffee, cola, tea and other caffeine-containing drinks; fried or fatty foods; biscuits, crisps and other processed snacks. Lactose and gluten intolerance may also trigger symptoms if dairy or wheat-based products are eaten.
Living with IBS
No matter what causes irritable bowel syndrome, it is important to have this distressing and potentially debilitating illness diagnosed and get the right treatment as soon as possible. Identifying and then avoiding triggers is of equal importance, as is finding suitable ways to ease your symptoms.