Health Products Article: Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)


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Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
By Donovan Baldwin

Very simply, irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is the result of abnormal function (dysfunction) of the muscles of the organs of the gastrointestinal tract or the nerves controlling those organs.

Understanding this apparently simple problem of nervous control of the gastrointestinal tract, however, can be a complex issue.

A system of nerves runs along the entire length of the gastrointestinal tract, in the muscular walls of the organs, from the esophagus to the anus. These nerves communicate with other nerves that travel to and from the spinal cord. Nerves within the spinal cord, in turn, travel to and from the brain.

If that sounds like a lot of nerves, it is. In fact, the gastrointestinal tract is exceeded in the numbers of nerves it contains only by the spinal cord and brain.)

This is what makes IBS confusing as the abnormal function of the nervous system in IBS may manifest itself in a gastrointestinal muscular organ, the spinal cord, or the brain.

Very confusing...both to the diagnostician and the sufferer.

The nervous system that controls the gastrointestinal organs, as with most other organs, contains both sensory and motor nerves.

The sensory nerves are continuously aware of what is happening within the organ and relay this information to nerves in the organ's wall. From there, the information can be relayed to the spinal cord and brain. This information can be processed in the organ's wall, the spinal cord, or the brain.

More confusion!!!

Then, based on this sensory input and the way the input is processed, commands (i.e. responses) are sent to the organ by way of the motor nerves. Two of the most common motor responses in the intestine are simply contraction or relaxation of the muscle of the organ and secretion of fluid and/or mucus into the organ.

As already mentioned, abnormal function of the nerves of the gastrointestinal organs, at least theoretically, might occur in the organ, spinal cord, or brain.

On the other hand, the abnormalities might occur in the sensory nerves, the motor nerves, or at processing centers in the intestine, spinal cord, or brain.

This has caused some researchers to argue that the root cause of functional diseases is abnormalities in the function of the sensory nerves. For example, normal activities, such as stretching of the small intestine by food, may give rise to abnormal sensory signals that are sent to the spinal cord and brain, where they are perceived as pain.

However, other researchers will argue that the cause of functional diseases is abnormalities in the function of the motor nerves.

For example, abnormal commands through the motor nerves might produce a painful spasm (contraction) of the muscles.

Still others argue that abnormally functioning processing centers are responsible for functional diseases because they misinterpret normal sensations or send abnormal commands to the organ. In  fact, some functional diseases may be due to sensory dysfunction, motor dysfunction, or both sensory and motor dysfunction. Still others may be due to abnormalities within the processing centers.

One area that is receiving a great deal of scientific attention these days is the potential role of gas produced by intestinal bacteria in patients with IBS. Studies have demonstrated that patients with IBS produce larger amounts of gas than individuals without IBS, and this gas may be retained longer in the small intestine.

Among patients with IBS, abdominal size commonly increases over the day, reaching a maximum in the evening and returning to baseline by the following morning. In individuals who do not suffer from IBS, there is no increase in abdominal size during the day.

There has been a great deal of controversy over the role that poor digestion and/or absorption of dietary sugars may play in aggravating the symptoms of IBS. Poor digestion of lactose, the sugar in milk, is very common as is poor absorption of fructose, a sweetener found in many processed foods. Poor digestion or absorption of these sugars could aggravate the symptoms of IBS since these unabsorbed sugars often are the cause of increased formation of gas.

Although these abnormalities in production and transport of gas could give rise to some of the symptoms of IBS, much more research will be required before the role of intestinal gas in IBS, if any, is completely clear.

Dietary fat in healthy individuals causes food, as well as gas, to move more slowly through the stomach and small intestine. Some patients with IBS may even respond to dietary fat in an exaggerated fashion with even greater slowing.

Thus, dietary fat could...and probably does...aggravate the symptoms of IBS.

Many people resort to various prescription and over-the-counter products, to relieve their Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms. However, just as the causes of IBS are elusive and varied, various people find relief with various products and/or remedies.

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Donovan Baldwin is a freelance SEO copywriter residing in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area. He is also a University of West Florida alumnus, a past member of Mensa, and is retired from the U. S. Army after 21 years of service. In his career, he has held many managerial and supervisory positions. However, his main pleasures have long been writing, nature, health, and fitness. In the last few years, he has been able to combine these pleasures by writing poetry and articles on subjects such as health, fitness, weight lifting, yoga, weight loss, the environment, global warming, happiness, self improvement, and life. His blog on senior health and fitness may be found at

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Articles on Health and Beauty - Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Page Updated 12:19 PM Wednesday 8/19/2015