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The link between irritable bowel syndrome and frequent bowel movements may not be obvious in most cases. Not only is IBS one of the most under diagnosed diseases in the world, patients can also present with long-term constipation. So what is the link?

As evident in our exploration of frequent bowel movements already, there are a number of potential factors that could explain why you may notice an increase in your trips to the toilet. Some of the foods you eatyour exercise habitsdrinking too much coffee or diseases like Celiac or Crohn's disease all could be factors that cause your increased stools. When it comes to irritable bowel syndrome, generally there is a cyclical pattern where patients can suffer from diarrhea and then experience times of prolonged constipation. You may think that when you are suffering from frequent bowel movement disorders that constipation is a welcomed break from the frequent bowel irritation but this may not be the case at all. Here, we will take a much deeper look into the connection between frequent bowel movements and irritable bowel syndrome. 

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome? 

Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic and debilitating condition that affects between 9 to 23 percent of the global population [1]. Even with such a high incidence of the disease seen worldwide, it is believed that only about 12 percent of patients suffering from IBS will go to a doctor to help treat their symptoms. Reasons for this can vary substantially but most of the time, it stems from patients being embarrassed  about revealing these problems to their family and their physicians. Patients will generally be between the ages of 20 to 30 with almost all patients presenting symptoms of the disease by 50 years of age. 

Perhaps even more frustrating, there is a true lack of understanding as to what causes the actual disease. Numerous theories postulate that there could be an underlying genetic element, differences in the bacteria in the intestinal tract, or from the diet that a patient normally consumes but even through multiple studies, there is no clear connection between any of these conditions [2]. Currently, it is believed that all these factors can add together to cause imbalances in the endocrine cells of the gastrointestinal mucosa. The abnormality of the balance of these cells is what is known to cause the IBS symptoms. Patients will suffer from an imbalance of gastrointestinal irritation, inflammation and cycles of diarrhea and constipation as a result of this pathology. 

The disease is ultimately diagnosed through a combination of physical examination, history and using what is called the Rome III criteria in order to make a diagnosis of IBS. According to Rome III criteria, patients tend to be located in the East where cases seem to be highest in Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Compared to these countries, the UK and the US are both less likely to home IBS patients. Patients with expected symptoms will need to undergo a colonoscopy in order to assess the status of their intestines. [3]

The Link Between IBS and Frequent Bowel Movements

Even if you don't have a background in medicine, just hearing the name of "irritable bowel" should give you an inclination that there is a link between irritable bowel syndrome and frequent bowel movements. Patients with this condition will normally first present with signs of dull lower abdominal pain that can crescendo into severe pain at times. This will be coupled with an increased desire to defecate and prompts patients to rush to the toilet. An interesting caveat, however, is that male patients will generally present with more diarrhea-like symptoms as the chief complaint while women are ones likely to suffer most from constipation. [4] This does not mean that each group will never experience the lesser seen component of the cycle. Patients with this diagnosis will expect a cycle of diarrhea and constipation, just the distribution of symptom intensity is what varies between patients. 

Even if you may dismiss this disease as not drastically changing the life of the patient, statistics show that is not the case at all. On average, patients with IBS can miss 73 days of work per year and can cost the healthcare system over 12 billion dollars annually. If the number of patients believed to actually be suffering from IBS were treated appropriately, this number is a very low estimate for the true cost of the disease. [5]

When it comes to treatment, doctors will recommend a combination of lifestyle modifications and medications that can help reduce symptoms. Fiber can have a moderate impact on the relief of symptoms but patients would be wise to avoid therapies like laxatives if they are suffering from a constipation-heavy form of IBS. Antidepressant medications seem to have the most lasting impact on improving the quality of life and providing symptom relief. [6] With luck, the incidence of frequent bowel movements will be reduced. 

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