The exact causes of IBS are still unknown. What happens in the digestive tract is more understood than why the symptoms occur. This may be largely due to the lack of studies carried through featuring larger control groups. Several accepted causes have been proposed and loosely include a diet lacking in dietary fiber, an abnormal, emotional stress response of the digestive tract, and intolerance or sensitivities to specific food. Rather than being caused by a single factor, IBS is more likely to be fueled by a combination of stimuli.
The common underlying similarity between sufferers seems to reveal a disordered rhythm in the digestive tract. Intestinal contents regularly make movement through regular contractile rhythms, also known as peristalsis. When this natural rhythm of the bowel muscle is disrupted is when the symptoms of IBS appear.
Eating a meal high in fat or other problematic contents may enhance symptoms as well as the time of day they are eaten. Stress more often than not amplifies IBS symptoms when situations involving stress and other emotions disturb the intestinal motility. “Nervous diarrhea” is often a term used by sufferers to describe these situations and occurs when the muscles in the large bowel start to vigorously contract. Studies show that psychological factors also play a role, especially with childhood origins, that cause symptoms of IBS.
The Mind/Brain-Gut Connection and IBS
If you’re one to believe, and frankly many realize this by experience and intuition, is the proposed Mind/Brain-Gut Connection. There are two systems that communicate in this two-way street, one being the brain in the central nervous system (CNS) and the enteric nervous system (ENS) in the gut being the other. The ENS is found in the lining of the stomach, small intestine, esophagus, colon and rectum.
When stress of some kind is perceived in the CNS, the signals travel down to the ENS in the gut triggering the painful gut sensations. A disturbance occurs in this communication pathway of the brain-gut regulation.
Research has appropriately shown that patients with IBS have increased gut sensitivity and can feel sensations in their throat, abdomen, chest, and rectum that others can’t perceive.
Anxiety, anger and fear likely conjure greater activity in the guts of IBS patients compared to others, probably because IBS patients have a distinct connection between their emotions and the symptoms felt in their bowels.
Some internal gut triggers include:
- Hormones (menstrual cycle, menopause, cholecystokinin stimulated from fatty foods)
- Drugs and medications- (medications for constipation (lactulose and sorbitol) can produce bloating)
- Infection and inflammation (gastroenteritis can induce future IBS; “post-infectious” IBS may continue for months or years after a patient develops an infection from a friend or relative after he/she developed the infection on an overseas trip)
- Dietary substances
- Seasonal changes
- Poisons and toxins
- Unstable blood sugar levels- this can lead to carbohydrate craving and poor nutrition
Genetics influences IBS to an extent, but it shouldn’t be relied upon when making a diagnosis. IBS is a common disorder, and it just may be a coincidence that one of your first degree relatives has IBS considering 15 percent of the population has the symptoms. More studies need to be implemented to determine if certain abnormal genes guarantees the development of IBS, but a genetic predisposition to the disorder does increase the likelihood of it occurring.
Social Environment During Childhood May Play a Role
It is worth to highlight that when a parent has IBS the respective patient may have an increased risk for the condition, but not only because of genetics. The parenting behavior during childhood can greatly influence the patient’s development of irritable bowel syndrome. This influence is either direct or indirect.
Children can model their parents indirectly when, for example, the child observes their mother or father during an unpleasant task to perform that can cause stress, and consequently he or she develops abdominal symptoms. Before long, these children ‘learn’ to produce diarrhea or abdominal pain prior to an anticipated test scheduled at school or other unpleasant situation. “Rewarding” children for being ill by giving them a treat or a meal is a direct influence, because it reinforces the child’s perception that being ill is desirable. Most physicians who monitor IBS patients attest to this concept.
Other less common causes of IBS show sufferers with past experiences of physical or sexual abuse.
Consulting your physician is appropriate when determining the causes of your irritable bowel syndrome. There is generally more than one variable involved as IBS is strongly multifactorial.