Suspected Causes Of Irritable Bowel Syndrome - IBSBy David Hiller
Irritable bowel syndrome, commonly referred to as IBS, is believed to be caused by the dysfunction of the muscles that control the gastrointestinal tract. It is also said that these muscle dysfunctions could be caused by the nerves which control the related organs of this tract.
The nervous control of the gastrointestinal tract is extremely complex. A system of nerves runs the full length of the gastrointestinal tract from the esophagus to the anus in the muscular walls of the organs. These nerves communicate with the nerves traveling to and from the spinal cord. Nerves within the spinal cord travel to and from the brain. Therefore, abnormal function of the nervous system in IBS may occur in a gastrointestinal muscular organ, the spinal cord, or the brain. The nervous system controlling the gastrointestinal organs, as with most other organs, contains sensory and motor nerves. Theses nerves continuously sense what is happening within the organs and relay this information to nerves in the organ's wall. From there, information can be relayed to the spinal cord and brain. This information is received and processed in the organ's wall, the spinal cord, or the brain. Then, based on this sensory input and the way the input is processed, responses are sent to the organ over the motor nerves. The most common motor responses in the intestine are contraction or relaxation of the muscle of the organ and secretion of fluid and/or mucus into the organ.
Abnormal function of the nerves of the gastrointestinal organs, theoretically, may occur in the organ, spinal cord, or brain. Moreover, the abnormalities might occur in the sensory nerves, the motor nerves, or at processing centers in the intestine, the spinal cord, or brain. Some research argues that the 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.
Still other research claims that the cause of functional diseases is abnormalities in the function of the motor nerves. For example, abnormal commands through the motor nerves can produce painful contractions of the muscles. Still others argue that abnormally functioning processing centers are responsible for functional diseases since 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 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 the gas may be retained longer in the small intestine. Among patients with IBS, abdominal size increases over the day, reaching a maximum in the evening and returning to normal by the following morning. In individuals without IBS, there is no increase in abdominal size during the day.
There is 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 is very common as is poor absorption of fructose, and other sweeteners commonly found in processed foods. Poor digestion or absorption of these sugars could aggravate the symptoms of IBS since unabsorbed sugars often increase the formation of gas.
Although these abnormalities in production and transport of gas could give rise to some of the symptoms of IBS, much more work will need to be done before the role of intestinal gas in IBS is clear.
Dietary fat in healthy individuals causes food as well as gas to move slowly through the stomach and small intestine. Some patients with IBS may even respond to dietary fat in an exaggerated fashion with greater slowing. Therefore, dietary fat could also aggravate the symptoms of IBS.
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