Jade Acupuncture Clinic


Irritable bowel syndrome, (IBS), also known as spastic colon or spastic colitis, is a common disorder of the lower intestinal tract that is often worsened by emotional stress. IBS involves abdominal pain and distention, combined with alternating diarrhea and constipation. IBS is a benign condition that has no anatomical abnormality or inflammatory component.

IBS involves a disturbance in the muscle movement of the colon in response to stimuli.  There is no abnormality in the structure of the intestine; however the smooth muscle function of the colon may be marked by excessive peristalsis and spasms. The muscle movements in the colon may be triggered by certain foods or drugs, as well as the hormones gastrin and cholecystokinin. Abnormally strong contractions of the muscles of the colon may be a reaction to distention, irritants, and stress, causing pain.

Irritable bowel syndrome often begins in adolescence or early adulthood, although it may occur at any age.  Predisposing factors may include a low-fiber diet, emotional stress, use of laxatives, a bout of infectious diarrhea, or other temporary bowel inflammation. Irritable bowel syndrome affects 10% to 20% of the US population, with the disease occurring in women twice as often as in men.

IBS is characterized by chronic and frequent diarrhea, and chronic and frequent constipation, both usually accompanied by pain. There is abdominal pain or tenderness that worsens 1 to 2 hours after a meal, and is relieved by bowel movement. Other symptoms include abdominal fullness, gas, bloating, and abdominal distention. There may be nausea and vomiting, as well as loss of appetite. Bowel movements may contain mucus. Patients presenting IBS symptoms often have had a recent stressful lifestyle change.

Complications of IBS include dehydration, discomfort, malnutrition from food avoidance, and depression, making treatment important for long-term health.

An additional complication is that chronic use of sedative and antispasmodic medications may lead to dependency on the drugs.

Patients should get regular checkups because IBS is associated with a higher-than-normal incidence of diverticulitis and colon cancer.

Diagnostic testing includes stool samples for ova, parasites, bacteria, and blood to rule out an infection, and lactose intolerance tests to rule out lactose intolerance. Additional testing may include barium enemas, sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, which all may reveal spasms without other signs of disease. A rectal biopsy may be done to rule out cancer.

Treatment for IBS focuses on relieving the symptoms. For some individuals, changes in diet may be helpful. No single diet has been found to be beneficial for all IBS sufferers, however increasing dietary fiber and eliminating gastrointestinal stimulants such as caffeine may be helpful.

Treatment may also include measures to reduce anxiety, such as regular exercise or mild anti-anxiety medications. Some patients experience relief by applying heat to the abdomen. Antispasmodics, such as propantheline or diphenoxylate with atropine sulfate, may be prescribed for pain. For patients with persistent diarrhea, operamide might be used to reduce urgency and fecal soiling. Some individuals will benefit from the use of promotility drugs such as tagaserod, which will help patients with constipation-predominant IBS. If chronic laxative abuse has preceded the onset of IBS, bowel training might be used to regain muscle control.

Acupuncture is also an effective treatment for IBS. A 2008 study published in “Acupuncture in Medicine” noted that acupuncture is “quite promising”, with acupuncture patients showing a significant decrease in IBS symptoms.

Another 2008 study, published in “Medical Acupuncture”, selected IBS patients who were unresponsive to standard medical treatment. The study found that there was an 80% improvement with acupuncture treatments for the patients. The study concluded that acupuncture is an effective treatment for patients with IBS and patients with localized abdominal quadrant pain.

IBS tends to be a life-long chronic condition, but the symptoms often can be managed through treatment, with acupuncture providing a safe and very effective treatment option.

Copyright 2008 by Jeri Petz, MSOM, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM), Dipl. OM (NCCAOM), ADS (NADA)
Jade Acupuncture Clinic Ltd.