Irritable Bowel Syndrome refers to a situation whereby the movement in your colon either slows down causing constipation or speeds up causing diarrhea. If you have diarrhea, the colon does not absorb adequate water before the contents are expelled through a bowel movement. If you have constipation, the colon absorbs too much water. In either case, you can also experience cramping, abdominal pain, and bloating.
What Causes IBS?
Researchers have not yet been able to pinpoint the exact cause of the condition, but several theories have been advanced about what causes it.
Abnormal Serotonin Levels
One leading theory is that the condition is related to the serotonin levels in the gut. Serotonin is known for being a chemical in the brain but that’s only part of its role. While some of the serotonin is found in the brain, it is also present in the walls of the colon where it may regulate bowel movements and contractions and secrete fluid.
Research has revealed that if the serotonin in the gut is not functioning as it should or if a person has an abnormal amount of serotonin it could lead to IBS symptoms. This might explain why some people experience bowel movements once they take antidepressants that usually work by adjusting serotonin levels.
Analyses of the studies testing the effects of antidepressants on IBS symptoms have revealed that the drugs improve the overall symptoms including diarrhea and abdominal pain. Researchers discovered that one in three people treated using tricyclic antidepressants usually experience a significant improvement in IBS symptoms.
Some research studies have revealed that those with IBS tend to have an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine that may be responsible for IBS symptoms. This might explain why some studies have linked taking antibiotics with relief from IBS symptoms.
In a recent study involving 87 adults suffering from IBS, researchers offered patients either oral antibiotics or a placebo thrice a day for 10 days. After treatment, the patients were asked about the severity of their symptoms including bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea. Patients that has taken the antibiotic reported a greater overall improvement in IBS symptoms when compared to those that took the placebo. In addition, this improvement was sustained for 10 weeks even after they had ceased taking the medication.
Bacterial Infection & Other Explanations
Some people that previously suffered from a bacterial infection or gastroenteritis in the gastrointestinal tract often go on to develop IBS. Other theories implicate inflammation of the intestines, diet, and stress.
So, What causes IBS? While research has not been able to pinpoint to an exact cause, the 3 theories presented above are the best possible explanations currently available. While antibiotics and antidepressants can help ease the severity of IBS symptoms, other ways to get relief are available including changing diets, reducing stress levels, and through other medications. People that experience IBS symptoms should always consult their doctors.