About Digestive Diseases

What is a Functional Gastrointestinal Disorder?

Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders are a group of disorders, which include Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS, dyspepsia, GERD, and chronic constipation or diarrhea. These diseases are all characterized by chronic or recurrent gastrointestinal symptoms that appear for at least 12 weeks within a year, with the weeks not necessarily being consecutive, and for which no structural or biochemical causes are found. The only way you can learn if you have a functional disorder is by visiting a qualified medical professional and through a patient history and various medical tests, more serious conditions are ruled out.

About IBS
About Dyspepsia
About GERD
About Chronic Constipation



What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS is the most common gastrointestinal disorder seen by GI Doctors. IBS may affect up to 20 percent of Americans, or 54 million people. IBS appears fairly equally in people of all races, but it tends to affect women more than men, in fact three times as many, however, men may be less likely to report the problem. The onset of IBS usually begins to occur in late adolescence or in early adult life. It rarely appears for the first time after age 50. For many, the condition is chronic, and symptoms can appear for months, then disappear, then reappear again. For some, the symptoms are mild and for others, the symptoms can be quite severe and even debilitating.

What Are the Symptoms of IBS?
The most common symptoms that IBS patients complain of are any or all of the following:

  • frequent diarrhea
  • abdominal pain (usually in the lower abdomen area)
  • gas and bloating
  • diarrhea alternating with constipation
  • changes in bowel habits
  • mucus in the stool
  • bowel urgency (having to run to the bathroom) or incontinence
  • the feeling of incomplete evacuation after a bowel movement
  • cramps and the urge to move the bowels but then not being able to

Since IBS is considered mainly to be a disorder of the lower gastrointestinal tract, the symptoms tend to remain located below the navel. However, several symptoms of the upper gastrointestinal tract have also been shown to be common in those with IBS, including: difficulty swallowing, a sensation of a lump in the throat or a closing of the throat, heartburn or acid indigestion, nausea (with or without vomiting), and chest pain.

What Causes IBS?
The colon, which is about 6 feet long, connects the small intestine with the rectum and anus. The major function of the colon is to absorb water and salts from digestive products that enter from the small intestine. Two quarts of liquid matter enter the colon from the small intestine each day. This material may remain there for several days until most of the fluid and salts are absorbed into the body. The stool then passes through the colon by a pattern of movements to the left side of the colon, where it is stored until a bowel movement occurs.

Colon motility (contraction of intestinal muscles and movement of its contents) is controlled by nerves and hormones and by electrical activity in the colon muscle. The electrical activity serves as a "pacemaker" similar to the mechanism that controls heart function.

Movements of the colon propel the contents slowly back and forth but mainly toward the rectum. A few times each day strong muscle contractions move down the colon pushing fecal material ahead of them. Some of these strong contractions result in a bowel movement.

Because doctors have been unable to find an organic cause, IBS has often been thought to be caused by emotional conflict or stress. While stress may in fact worsen IBS symptoms, or cause symptoms of IBS in those who do not have the disorder, research suggests that other factors are also important. Researchers have found that women with IBS may have more symptoms during their menstrual periods, suggesting that reproductive hormones can increase IBS symptoms. Researchers at CNS/WH have found that the colon muscle of a person with IBS begins to spasm after only mild stimulation. We have also found that pressure in the colon affects the brain of a person with IBS differently than a person without IBS. The person with IBS seems to have a colon that is more sensitive and reactive than usual, so it responds strongly to stimuli that would not bother most people.

What Can I Do to Help My IBS Symptoms?
If you have been diagnosed with IBS by a qualified medical doctor, one of the best ways to manage your condition is to understand it. Knowing what the symptoms of IBS are, and that they are not the signs of a life threatening illness is the first step in your road to managing this condition. The second is learning what foods, environmental causes, stresses and other factors may exasperate or worsen your condition. Understand that nearly all people with IBS can be helped, but no single treatment works for everyone.

Eating, stress, gas, depression, and anxiety can cause the colon to overreact and increase IBS symptoms in some people. Foods such as milk products in lactose-intolerant people, chocolate, alcohol, dietary fats, corn, gas forming vegetables and wheat, are known to provoke symptoms. Excessive use of artificial sweeteners such as sorbital or mannitol should be avoided as well.

What We Are Doing at CNS/WH

Classes: CNS/WH regularly offers classes that help patients understand and manage their IBS condition more effectively. Click here for further information.

Research Studies: Clinical research is essential in advancing our understanding of biological and psychological mechanisms underlying functional GI disorders and IBS. The only way these studies can be performed is when affected patients are willing to participate in them. If you are interested in these studies, you can either participate in clinical trials in which the effectiveness of novel therapies on IBS symptoms is being evaluated.

Alternatively, you can participate in research studies aimed at characterizing mechanisms underlying symptoms in IBS. Click here for further information.

Links and Information on IBS:
Read an article from Healthy Me regarding the link between mood and digestion.

The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD): is a nonprofit education and research organization founded in 1991. IFFGD addresses the issues surrounding life with gastrointestinal (GI) functional and motility disorders and increases the awareness about these disorders among the general public, researchers, and the clinical care community.

UCLA Center for East-West Medicine: The mission of the Center for East-West
Medicine is to improve health, well-being and the quality of life by bringing together the best of modern western and traditional Chinese medicine. Dr. Hui and his staff currently apply the principles and practices of modern western and traditional Chinese medicine in the clinic at UCLA. The clinic also serves as the base for the Center.

About IBS
About Dyspepsia
About GERD
About Chronic Constipation