Irritable Bowel Syndrome

People with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) experience abdominal pain and cramps, and usually diarrhea alternating with constipation. Sometimes they experience frequent diarrhea or constipation rather than one alternating with the other. Other common symptoms include a feeling of gas, bloating, fullness in the abdomen, and a poor appetite. Often a bowel movement temporarily relieves these symptoms. The disorder is also known as spastic colon, irritable colon and nervous stomach. Many people experience IBS symptoms as life-altering.

You should see your family physician if you have experienced any of these symptoms and have not yet discussed them with him or her.

What Causes IBS?

The cause of IBS is unclear. Sometimes IBS occurs after an intestinal infection. Other times it occurs after a stressful experience. But most of the time IBS occurs without any clear cause. Some people with IBS have symptoms most days. Others may have long periods with few or no symptoms between episodes.

Some research studies have found that people with IBS have abnormal levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in their gastrointestinal system. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that enable nerve cells to communicate with each other. The abnormal levels of serotonin cause problems with the movement of smooth muscles within the intestines (motility) and increased pain sensitivity in the gastrointestinal system. Some people with IBS obtain relief from their symptoms when they take antidepressants that focus on restoring a more normal neurotransmitter level.

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What is fibromyalgia?

Imagine that you experience pain in many areas of your body and tenderness in your joints, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues. Imagine that you also experience problems with sleep, low energy and fatigue. Imagine you feel depressed and anxious and that you have problems with thinking clearly (often called “fibro fog”). Now, imagine that you feel this not just for one day, one week or one month but for many months and possibly for years on end. This is the reality of fibromyalgia, a syndrome that often has a profound impact on every aspect of a person’s life.

Most people with fibromyalgia endure many medical examinations before they are diagnosed. Many are told that their pain is “all in their heads” and feel that their symptoms are not believed. The diagnosis of fibromyalgia is still controversial among many health care professionals. There are still some who question whether this is, in fact, a real syndrome at all.

However, if you have fibromyalgia, the reality of your symptoms is not in question.

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Pain is the most frequent reason people seek medical help and take medications. You should consult with your family physician if you develop any new pain problem, if you have had an ongoing pain problem, or if you experience any change with respect to the quality or intensity of the pain.

However, most people with a pain problem think only about medical consultation and medications. Most of us have become accustomed to look for external help only. We do not usually look inward to use our own resources to cope better and promote healing. Psychological treatments for pain educate people and empower them so that they can take control of their pain, whatever the cause, and help themselves cope better. This approach complements whatever medical approach their physician may have recommended. Psychological strategies can be especially helpful in dealing with chronic pain.

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