Progression and Possible Complications of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)


What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a health condition in which the large intestine is affected by a simultaneously occurring group of intestinal symptoms. IBS causes stomach discomfort or pain, diarrhea or constipation, and changes in stool consistency (thin, hard, soft or liquid stools). It affects an estimated 10 to 15 percent of Americans.

Irritable bowel syndrome is also known as spastic colitis, mucous colitis, irritable colon or spastic colon. Although bowel changes occur, the risk of colorectal cancer does not increase with IBS. It is uncommon for intestinal damage to occur with IBS; however, symptoms may significantly alter one's lifestyle.

Progression of irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome can be a daily challenge and life-long condition. However, the symptoms typically come and go and often change over time. It is common to have periods of flares and periods of remission. While there is no cure, symptoms of IBS can often be managed by reducing stress and adjusting dietary habits.

Possible complications of irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome can drastically impact daily life. Research shows that individuals with IBS are absent from work or school three times more than those without the condition. IBS can lead to both physical and mental health complications.

Physical health complications

A health care provider should be consulted if irritable bowel syndrome is suspected. Ignoring IBS symptoms can lead to the following health complications:

  • Anal fissures can develop from pushing too hard during a bowel movement. These small tears are difficult to heal during bouts of constipation. Symptoms of an anal fissure include pain, itching and bleeding.
  • Hemorrhoids can cause rectal bleeding and develop from excessive straining due to constipation.
  • Fecal impaction occurs when stool becomes stuck in the rectum. Oftentimes, a health care professional will have to manually remove the impacted stool.
  • Rectal prolapse occurs when the rectum exits the anus, causing mucus to leak out of the anus. This can occur with chronic constipation.
  • Malnourishment can develop due to avoidance of certain nutritious, healthy foods that aggravate IBS symptoms.
Mental health complications

Dealing with irritable bowel syndrome can cause anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Mental health complications associated with IBS include the following:

  • Agoraphobia is a fear of going to public places. Symptoms of agoraphobia may develop due to concerns about finding a restroom in unfamiliar places.
  • Social anxiety symptoms include withdrawal from family, friends and co-workers. This condition may develop as a result of embarrassment about IBS symptoms, including the need to find a restroom quickly.
  • Generalized anxiety may develop over IBS symptoms. The symptoms of IBS can cause anxiety, and anxiety can increase the symptoms. It is often a vicious circle.
  • Depression may develop as a result of dealing with IBS symptoms. Depression can cause other symptoms, such as body aches and lack of motivation.
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