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Ask A Doc: What causes irritable bowel syndrome?

AAD NorrisOur answer comes from Dr. Mary Norris, HMC Gastroenterologist.

Question: What causes irritable bowel syndrome?

Answer:  It's not known exactly what causes irritable bowel syndrome. The walls of the intestines are lined with layers of muscle that contract and relax in a coordinated rhythm as they move food from your stomach through your intestinal tract to your rectum. If you have irritable bowel syndrome, the contractions may be stronger and last longer than normal. Food is forced through your intestines more quickly, causing gas, bloating and diarrhea. In some cases, the opposite occurs and food passage slows, and stools become hard and dry. Abnormalities in the gut, and serotonin levels, may be responsible.  This can result in greater than normal discomfort when your intestinal wall stretches from gas. Triggers can vary but sometimes include food, stress, viral gastroenteritis, and hormonal changes such as PMS and menopause. Symptoms can occur at any age.

If you are concerned that you may be suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, you may want to consider talking to your physician or meeting with a gastroenterologist. For a physician referral, call the HMC Health Promotion line at (413) 534-2789.

‘Ask a Doc’ is a weekly post by Holyoke Medical Center. To ask a question, please feel free to submit to and we will do our best to answer it.

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