An occasional stomachache is common for most people and is usually no cause for concern. However, recurring stomach pain along with other symptoms may be a sign of another underlying issue, such as irritable bowel syndrome, commonly known as IBS or "spastic colon."
Irritable bowel syndrome is a long-term problem causing symptoms that may fluctuate from day-to-day, but will not worsen over time. During bouts, however, a person with IBS can experience such severe discomfort that they may be unable to work, travel or pursue social and physical activities.
The most common recurring symptoms of IBS include:
- Abdominal pain
IBS is twice as common in women than in men. In addition, women with IBS seem to experience the condition more often during their menstrual periods, suggesting that reproductive hormones can increase IBS symptoms. IBS is also more likely to affect those with a family history of the disorder.
IBS does not cause more serious diseases, such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis or cancer. However, it can affect your quality of life. Some research has linked the worsening of IBS symptoms to eating large meals, times of emotional stress, certain medications, and the ingestion of caffeine, alcohol and certain foods, such as chocolate, dairy products, beans, vegetables and fatty foods.
No single type of treatment for IBS works best for everyone. But there are things that you can do to reduce your symptoms:
- Change the foods you eat
- Add probiotics to your daily intake
- Drink alcohol and caffeine products in moderation
- Reduce stress
- Exercise regularly
- Talk to your doctor about medications and natural remedies, such as peppermint oil, that may help
- Consider alternative therapies to help reduce IBS-triggering emotional stress, including meditation, biofeedback, hypnosis or psychotherapy
Although IBS cannot be completely prevented and is a chronic condition, proper self-care along with quality health care may help minimize symptoms and extend the time between episodes.