Spastic colon (alternative name of irritable bowel syndrome /IBS) is a kind of a functional GI (gastrointestinal) disorder. It occurs when there are changes of way on how the gastrointestinal tract works. Gender is one of major risk factors – women are at higher risk of developing IBS than men. Is there a link between menstrual period and irritable bowel syndrome symptoms in women?
Patients with spastic colon have frequent symptoms or problems associated with the digestive system, but fortunately it doesn’t cause serious damage to the GI tract. Moreover this syndrome is not disease but it is actually only a group of symptoms that are present together – according to NDDIC /the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.
Theories that explain the possible causes of spastic colon
The exact cause of spastic colon is still not well understood. But many studies suggest that there may be a combination between mental and physical health problems. The following are some possible causes of irritable bowel syndrome!
- The sensitivity of certain foods! Most patients report that certain beverages /foods can trigger their symptoms to flare up. Nevertheless, most people who have food sensitivity usually don’t experience clinical signs of food allergy. Experts believe that the poor absorption of bile acids or sugars may have contribution to trigger the symptoms after eating certain foods (such as spicy-foods, foods high in fat or carbohydrates, alcohol, and caffeinated beverages).
- Bacterial gastroenteritis (a kind of infection caused by bacteria that occur in the intestines /stomach). Some patients are diagnosed with IBS after having bacterial gastroenteritis. Experts and researchers still don’t the answer with certainty to explain why gastroenteritis causes spastic colon in some people. They believe that the abnormalities and physiological problems of the GI lining may be the answer for the link of both. Read also probiotic foods and digestive problems!
- Typically, patients with spastic colon have a lower /poor pain threshold of the bowel if compared to other people without spastic colon. As a result, the brain may respond the pain signals from the intestines differently in individuals with IBS.
- About genetics – does irritable bowel syndrome run in families? The answer is still not clear, but experts have confirmed that the family history of IBS is one of risk factors. In other words, for people who have a family history of this disorder (particularly for the first relative degree – such as parent, brother, or sister), they are more likely to have the same condition someday.
- SIBO /small intestinal bacterial overgrowth! In normal digestive system, there are few bacteria that live naturally in the small intestine. But some patients with irritable bowel syndrome have a change in the type of bacteria or an increase in the number of bacteria in their small intestine (SIBO). Few studies found that there may be a link between SIBO and the development of IBS. But it is still unclear, more research is required!
- Mental or psychological health problems (particularly such as depression and anxiety) are pretty common in patients with spastic colon. It’s clear that there is a connection between the intestines and brain. But it’s still unclear whether mental health problems have contribution for the development of irritable bowel syndrome.
- Problems associated with gastrointestinal motor! In fact, it’s very common for the abnormal movement /motility (both either too fast or too slow movement of the colon) to be found in patients with spastic colon. While fast movement of colon can lead to diarrhea, slow motility can cause constipation. Both diarrhea and constipation are the most common symptoms of IBS. Changes of sudden contractions that come & go then will lead to abdominal discomfort and pain.
- The wrong way of signals from the brain to the intestines! From all theories explained above, it may be the most popular issue for the cause of irritable bowel syndrome. The signals that sent from the brain to the nerves of the intestines are very crucial to control how the gut works. When these signals go in the wrong way, this can significantly affect the way of you intestines to work! However, there is still no clearly answer of why these wrong signals occur.
Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms in women
The symptoms include abdominal discomfort, abdominal pain, and changes in the habits of bowel movement. To meet the characteristic of spastic colon, the discomfort and pain typically will:
- Improve after a bowel movement.
- Be followed with bowel movements that come less or more often than normal.
- Be followed with more lumpy, harder or watery (looser) stools in bowel movements.
These explain that the IBS symptoms are also closely associated with diarrhea and constipation. Diarrhea is characterized by more often than usual of bowel movements and with looser or watery stools.
Then for constipation, the opposite occurs. It is characterized by less often than usual of bowel movements with harder stools.
Furthermore mucus that is found in the stools, abdominal gas /bloating, and feeling of incomplete bowel movement may also occur when spastic colon flares up.
Is IBS linked to menstrual cycle?
Typically, the symptoms of this syndrome may flare up after eating a meal or after eating certain foods. The trigger foods for irritable bowel syndrome vary from patient to patient. Therefore, most patients must take a trial process of diet to find specific foods that trigger the symptoms as much as possible.
This digestive problem is also often recurrent during stressful period. That’s why, patients need also to manage their stress as well.
In women with IBS (particularly for young women or women of childbearing age), the symptoms may often flare up during the menstrual periods. In fact, those with post-menopause have fewer spastic colon symptoms than others who are still menstruating. This suggests that there may be a link between the spastic colon symptoms and the reproductive hormones in women.
Some experts believe that patients with irritable bowel syndrome have altered levels of chemicals in the body that are important to transmit gastrointestinal hormones and nerve signals. These chemicals are called ‘neurotransmitters’. And there may be a link between these chemicals and changes of reproductive hormones in women.
Unfortunately, there is still not adequate scientific evidence to confirm the connection of these issues – more studies are needed!
If you have IBS and the symptoms often get worse during menstruation, ask your doctor for more advice! She /he may prescribe you PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) drugs or some oral contraceptives if necessary to cope with the symptoms.