What Causes IBS? It Is Not All In Your Head!

So what causes IBS and its horrible symptoms of stomach and abdominal pain, cramping and bloating? The painful gas, constipation and/or diarrhea?

Doctors do not really know for sure. (I know, not really what you want to hear). As IBS sufferers, we do know that our gut is more sensitive than others. Recent research (but not enough) has begun to confirm this fact, so maybe the doctors will take notice and realize that this disorder is not all in our head! Also, not everyone's disorder is related to the same cause. So while research has slowly been uncovering some of the mystery of irritable bowel syndrome, at least we now have a few explanations of what the IBS causes may be and why our gut is so sensitive.

  • Serotonin – This is the best explanation of IBS causes I have read so far to help me understand my IBS.

    Did you know, there is a neurotransmitter produced in your body that gives you a feeling of calm and relaxation? 95% of this neurotransmitter, called serotonin, is stored in the digestive tract! The other 5% is stored in your brain. In those of us with IBS, there are abnormal levels of serotonin in our digestive tract, which causes abnormal motility and movement. This abnormal movement causes contractions that are either too severe, or too slow, maybe even stopping at times. The imbalance of serotonin also causes abnormal sensations. These abnormal sensations can show up as cramping and pain. My husband has always joked with me that I feel pain much more easily and strongly than others (a fact he was able to witness first hand when I was in labor with my each of my sons)!

    So, here is the tricky part: if your digestive tract is not healthy, then your serotonin level will be out of whack, and you will feel depressed, anxious, and stressed. But if you are depressed, anxious and stressed, your IBS symptoms will become worse. It becomes a vicious cycle. Ugh!

  • Gastroenteritis – Also called the “stomach flu”, though it is not related to influenza. Inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract is the main culprit here. This inflammation can be caused by a virus, bacteria or parasite and can sometimes be responsible for the development of IBS.
  • Food Allergies, Celiac disease, and sensitivities – Some causes of IBS can be from food allergies and sensitivities or Celiac disease, which is an intolerance to a substance found in wheat called gluten. Those of us with IBS know that our stomachs are sensitive. Certain foods that may be fine for others, can cause us to have a severe attack. While Celiac disease can be diagnosed by your doctor with a blood test or colonoscopy, food allergies and sensitivities can really only be identified by you and how you react to certain foods. I have found that this can be very difficult to do, since I'm never really sure which exact food causes a reaction, so it really becomes guesswork to find these IBS causes. To narrow it down, I have tried to watch my body's reaction for a day or two after consuming the big NO NO's of IBS: alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, fatty food, artificial sweeteners, and processed foods.
  • Finding out what causes IBS can be quite challenging, which is why most doctors do not even attempt it. There is no way to know for sure because there are not tests to determine what causes IBS.

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