The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, can hit hard and heavy and lead to all kinds of problems. Aside from the pain and discomfort, IBS can make people fearful of leaving the house and doing things they enjoy.
While the exact cause of IBS is unknown, there is research linking it to some specific changes in the body. Some of the symptoms may be caused by muscle spasms in the colon. Nerve endings in the colon may also become highly sensitive, which enhances pain.
Why these changes happen isn’t always clear, either. But there are some factors linked with IBS, including stress, antibiotic use, and bacterial overgrowth.
Psychological factors like stress and anxiety may play a role in IBS flare-ups and symptoms. Sometimes thoughts and emotions can trigger gut-related symptoms. Similarly, gut health may influence mental well-being and mood.
Stress may lead to more contractions in the intestine and further sensitivity. However, it can be hard to tell if psychological factors contribute to IBS or the other way around.
Antibiotic use, particularly for extended periods or multiple cycles, may also promote IBS.
You may be aware that your gut and colon are filled with trillions of bacteria that are collectively known as your microbiota or flora. A healthy population of flora can offer several benefits, including digestion and immune strength.
Antibiotics, however, carpet bomb these helpful critters, even when used to combat unhealthy ones that cause infection. Repeated antibiotic use can make it hard to restore a healthy population of gut bacteria.
Bacterial overgrowth can also contribute to IBS symptoms. This condition, called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO, occurs when extra bacteria from the colon backs up into the small intestine. It can lead to IBS symptoms like bloating, constipation, or diarrhea.
There can be several potential causes for IBS, each of which will influence management and treatment techniques. Speak with your care team about your options.