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Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms

The primary purpose of the gastrointestinal tract is to digest and absorb  food. In order to fulfill this purpose, food must be ground, mixed, and  transported through the intestines, where it is digested and absorbed. In  addition, undigested and unabsorbed portions of the food must be eliminated from  the body.

In functional diseases of the gastrointestinal tract such as  Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms, the grinding, mixing, digestion, and  absorption functions are disturbed to only a minor degree. These functions are  essentially maintained, perhaps because of a built-in over-capacity of the  gastrointestinal tract to perform these functions. The most commonly affected  function in these diseases is transportation. In the stomach and small  intestine, the symptoms of slowed transportation are nausea, vomiting, abdominal  bloating, and abdominal enlargement. The symptom of rapid transportation usually  is diarrhea. The interpretation of symptoms, however, may be more complicated  than this. For example, let’s say that a person has abnormally rapid emptying of  the stomach. The sensing of this rapid emptying by the intestinal sensory nerves  normally brings about a motor nerve response to slow emptying of the stomach and  transportation through the small intestine. Thus, rapid emptying of the stomach  may give rise to symptoms of slowed transportation.

In the colon,  abnormally slowed or rapid transportation results in constipation or diarrhea,  respectively. In addition, there may be increased amounts of mucus coating the  stool or a sense of incomplete evacuation after a bowel movement.

As  discussed previously, normal sensations may be abnormally processed and  perceived. Such an abnormality could result in abdominal bloating and pain.  Abnormally processed sensations from the gastrointestinal organs also might lead  to motor responses that cause symptoms of slowed or rapid transportation.

Slowed transportation of digesting food through the small intestine may  be complicated, for example, by bacterial overgrowth. In bacterial overgrowth,  gas-producing bacteria that are normally restricted to the colon move up into  the small intestine. There, they are exposed to greater amounts of undigested  food than in the colon, which they turn into gas. This formation of gas can  aggravate bloating and/or abdominal distention and result in increased amounts  of flatus (passing gas, or flatulence) and diarrhea.

The  gastrointestinal tract has only a few ways of responding to diseases. Therefore,  the symptoms often are similar regardless of whether the diseases are functional  or non-functional. Thus, the symptoms of both functional and non-functional  gastrointestinal diseases are nausea, vomiting, bloating, abdominal distention,  diarrhea, constipation, and pain. For this reason, when functional disease is  being considered as a cause of symptoms, it is important that the presence of  non-functional diseases be excluded. In fact, the exclusion of non-functional  diseases usually is more important in evaluating patients who are suspected of  having functional disease. This is so, in large part, because the tests for  diagnosing functional disease are complex, not readily available, and often not  very reliable. In contrast, the tests for diagnosing non-functional diseases are  widely available and sensitive .

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