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Stress, Certain Foods Cause Bowel Syndrome: Doctor

One in five Americans has irritable bowel syndrome, a disorder of the gastrointestinal tract, which can start even before the age of 35, a US-based doctor said Thursday.

The cause of the syndrome is unknown, but it is characterized by recurrent abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation or a combination, said Taing Tek Hong, a Florida physician, as a guest on “Hello VOA.”

This can create an urgent need to find a restroom, and can occur over months or years.

Symptoms vary by person, and some may only have mild signs, he said. But in some severe cases, the syndrome may not even respond well to medicine, as it can occur alongside other ailments.

In some cases, the syndrome is a reaction of a colon that is particularly sensitive to a certain type of food. It can also be stress related.

“The walls of the intestines are lined with layers of muscle that contract and relax in a coordinated rhythm, because they move food from your stomach through your intestinal tract to your rectum,” he said. “If you have IBS the contractions may be stronger than normal. Food is forced through your intestines more quickly, causing gas, bloating and diarrhea. In some cases, the opposite occurs. Food passage slows, and stool becomes hard and dry.”

People may find that symptoms worsen with certain types of food. With dairy or caffeine, this may not be because of IBS, but in other cases, this may be the source of the discomfort.

Women are twice as likely to have irritable bowel syndrome, due to changes in hormones, he said. Many women experience worse symptoms during the menstrual periods.

But IBS may not be the only cause of diarrhea, he said, in response to a call-in question. Reactions to medicine, such as antibiotics, blood pressure medication, cancer drugs and antacids with magnesium, can all cause diarrhea, he said.