Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Attack Of The Groans
This phenomenon had baffled me for many years. If a person knows what is causing the stress and anxiety that is messing up his bowels, why can't he control his bowels?
Here are just two examples:
- During the four months before my daughter was born, I was a basket case. I was 31-years-old at the time and, up until this point in my life, had always led a carefree existence with only one person to worry about: me. I was stressed about becoming a father and moving in with my soon-to-be wife and her son. I was bothered by the added responsibilities entering my life. But mostly I was freaked about the actual event of being in the room during the childbirth.
I spent those four months feeling nauseous, with cramps in my lower abdomen. I would have days of severely painful constipation or days of nasty diarrhea; it made no difference what I ate. No matter how hard I tried to relax and stay busy to keep my mind off my problems, I still suffered down under.
The overtime pay was great, but the stress was brutal. Even though I might go the whole week without even getting one call, I still had an upset stomach and the squirts the whole time. That day every month that I handed the pager over to the next on call guy was my ticket to twenty-one days of rectal bliss.
Now, what I don't understand is that if I knew what was causing my spastic bowels, why couldn't I control it? One thing I have found in life is that once I discover the cause of a problem, the relief of finding the origin and understanding it helps the problem become minimal.
If the problem is all in my mind, and I understand what my problem is, why are my bowels still getting involved?"
In a similar vein, Loo-Pee asks:
What's the deal with IBS? Is it really the "silent epidemic" that Lynda Carter and all of those commercials make it out to be? Is it one of those vague-symptom-maybe-I-have-it but I-can't-really-ever-be-sure conditions, or is it a good bet that someone who usually has irregular poops, constipation/loose stools, bloating (or is that just fat?) and intermittent -- but sometimes inexhaustible -- gas might actually have IBS? And if so, is this a condition that you are born with, or can it come and go? Knowing I might have it wouldn't change much, I know, but it would allow me to put a label on my shame.
What's the deal with IBS? Is it really the "silent epidemic" that Lynda Carter and all of those commercials make it out to be? Is it one of those vague-symptom-maybe-I-have-it but I-can't-really-ever-be-sure conditions, or is it a good bet that someone who usually has irregular poops, constipation/loose stools, bloating (or is that just fat?) and intermittent -- but sometimes inexhaustible -- gas might actually have IBS? And if so, is this a condition that you are born with, or can it come and go?
Knowing I might have it wouldn't change much, I know, but it would allow me to put a label on my shame.
JUST WHAT THE HELL IS IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME, ANYWAY?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is, first and foremost, a functional disease. This simply means there is no sign of an actual physical or organic abnormality when the colon is examined. This annoys both doctors and patients alike. Doctors like to have something available to cut out or to throw drugs at, mostly because they can bill you more that way. Patients are annoyed because no one likes to be told that nothing shows up on tests. It somehow makes the symptoms less legitimate if the doctor can't hold up an X-ray and say, "Wow -- no wonder I haven't crapped for six days!"
Functional syndrome or not, if you have IBS, you are not a happy camper. Though IBS does not cause permanent harm, nor does it lead to intestinal bleeding or cancer, it can really be disruptive to your daily life. Plus, it is hard to explain. You can tell your boss that you missed an important meeting because you have a brain tumor, but it can sound bad to say, "Sorry I was late -- I had the shits so bad I thought my tonsils were coming out of my ass."
Here are some of the symptoms Irritable Bowel Syndrome:
- Mucus in your stool (more than usual)
- Abdominal discomfort, either crampy or dull
IBS can and often does come and go inexplicably. Sometimes you have symptoms every few days; sometimes it goes away for months.
WAIT -- HOW THE HELL DOES THE NORMAL COLON WORK?
In order to fully understand what causes IBS, it is necessary to understand a little about the normal working day of the average colon. Hang in there, this is the incredibly boring part.
The colon is about six feet long. It connects the small intestine to the rectum and anus. (We simply aren't going into the working day of the small intestines, because I think if there were anything MORE boring than the large intestine, it would be the small intestines.) The major function of the colon is to absorb water and salts from the digestive products that enter via the aforementioned boring small intestines.
Approximately two quarts of liquid matter enters the colon each day. This material may remain there for several days until most of the stuff is absorbed into the body. The stool then passes through, via a series of movements or contractions, to the left side of the colon, where it is stored until it's time for the grand exit.
These contractions of the colon are controlled by nerves, hormones, and electrical activity in the colon muscle itself. It's sort of similar to the pacemaker mechanism that controls your heart function. A few times a day, strong muscle contractions move down the colon, pushing your feces ahead of them. When they reach the light at the end of the tunnel, it's go time.
SO WHAT THE HELL CAUSES IBS?
Because no one can really find an organic cause, doctors are forced to just make some wild guesses. It is often thought to be caused partially by emotional conflict or stress. When a person with IBS is exposed to stressful situations, the pacemaker (so to speak) of the colon muscle becomes overstimulated, and the colon muscle spasms. These spasms can result in either diarrhea or constipation, depending on whether the spasms delay the passage of poop or fast-forward it.
Just recognizing your stress or even receiving counseling for it may not necessarily relieve IBS. Sometimes your colon just has worries and stresses of its own.
Certain medicines or foods can also trigger the spasms. Chocolate, fats, alcohol, and caffeine are notorious offenders. A good rule of thumb for IBS sufferers is that anything that tastes good or makes you feel good may contribute to the spasms and the onset of symptoms.
Hormones may also play a part, as women are affected by IBS twice as often as men. Damn it. Periods AND IBS. Now I know God isn't a woman.
HOW THE HELL DO YOU DIAGNOSE IT?
IBS is diagnosed mainly by deciding that you aren't dying of something more serious. If -- after a series of lab tests, physical exams, barium enemas, and the insertion of obscenely large tubes containing cameras up your butt -- the doctor can't find anything wrong, then you may just have IBS.
OK, I HAVE IT, NOW WHAT THE HELL DO I DO?
Eating a proper diet may help lessen the symptoms. Increase your intake of tasty dietary fiber. Whole grain breads and cereals, beans, fruits, and vegetables are good sources of fiber, as is the cardboard packaging these items come in.
Yogurt is better tolerated than other dairy products because it contains the organisms that supply lactase, which is the enzyme necessary to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk products.
Large meals can cause cramping and diarrhea in IBS prone people. Stick with small, more frequent meals.
Certain medications, such as anticholinergics, antispasmodics, tranquilizers or sedatives, are sometimes used to combat IBS. If you are depressed (which I sure as hell am after writing this), antidepressants have also been used with some success.
Now, normally I am not a big fan of herbal or natural remedies, but I include these for someone who might be more open-minded than I am. For constipation, you can increase your intake of Vitamin C and Magnesium. Start with 2000mg per day of the former and 200mg per day of the latter. Drink 8-10 glasses of water a day.
For diarrhea, there is supposedly an amino acid called L-Glutamine. Since it's described as "virtually tasteless," I can only assume it is incredibly foul. Start with 1/4 tsp per day mixed with cold water and drink it on an empty stomach. You can increase the frequency up to two to three times a day if needed, and gradually increase the dosage up to a full teaspoon if that doesn't work. DO NOT USE IF YOU HAVE LIVER OR KIDNEY DISEASE.
If PoopReport had a legal department, they'd ask me to recommend you to check with your doctor before trying these remedies. So ask your doctor first. Why would you take advice from an Internet doctor? You don't know me.
Here's an interesting little cure that I hadn't heard before. It might not help your stomach, but it would pass the time, if nothing else. You should be able to convince your life partner to help you with this; if you do not have one, a hooker probably would do it, if the price were right.
Perform the massage either sitting on the can or lying down with your knees bent. Make a fist with your right hand and massage your colon using a digging, circular motion with your knuckles. Start at the lower right hand quadrant of your abdomen (just inside the hipbone) and work up to under the right side of your ribcage. Then travel straight across, then down the left quadrant of your abdomen. When you get to just inside your left hip bone, massage in towards your groin/pubic bone. You are supposed to do this a couple of times a day.
My reference source gets sort of hazy on what happens next, so use your imagination. It is described as "fantastic."
There are also mind-body therapies like craniosacral, acupuncture, reike, and other forms of energy healing that you can try; but these would probably empty your wallet faster than they empty your colon.
Poonurse is an RN with 25 years experience in labor and delivery. Her qualifications include seeing a lot of poop, and owning a computer. Also, she works in Michigan, which she calls the asshole of the universe, so that's another bit of credibility. Poonurse would like to remind you that she is a poo nurse, not a poo doctor. Her advice should be taken with moderate skepticism, and you should consult a REAL, sober medical professional if you have a serious medical condition.
Got a question for her?