irritable bowel syndromeYou’ve probably heard the medical term “irritable bowel syndrome” before. Someone you know complains of gas, rumbling in their tummy, constipation, diarrhea, or all of the above. But what causes this gassy condition? Contrary to popular belief, irritable bowel syndrome isn’t primarily caused by something you’ve eaten.

What Causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Although the medical community hasn’t determined the exact cause of IBS, there are many factors associated with the condition.

#1 Weak intestinal contractions can slow digestion, resulting in dry, hard stools that cause constipation. On the other hand, contractions that are longer and more powerful can cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea.

#2 Nervous system abnormalities. Discomfort from irritable bowel syndrome can also be caused by nerve abnormalities in your digestive system. Because your nerves aren’t properly signaling to your brain, your body may overreact to the digestive process causing diarrhea, constipation, or stretching of the abdomen from gas or stool.

#3 Inflamed intestines. An increase in the number of immune system cells in the intestines can cause an immune system response that leads to pain and diarrhea.

#4 Infection inside the intestine. Bacteria and/or viruses can lead to an overgrowth or imbalance in the intestines, which causes diarrhea.

#5 Changes in bacteria in the gut (microflora). People with IBS were reported to generally have less microflora or “good” bacteria in their intestines compared to people who do not suffer from IBS.

What Triggers Episodes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

While foods like wheat, dairy products, beans, cabbage, milk, and carbonated drinks are triggers, one of the leading triggers of IBS is stress. Stress is found to be a factor in many IBS patients to the extent that preventative measures may involve counseling, relaxation exercises, and mindfulness training.

Read more about gastrointestinal illnesses including HHER’s blog posts on Food Poisoning 101 and Gluten Intolerance.