Abdominal pain is a term that often refers to cramps or more specifically, abdominal cramps. They are usually short-lived and often not serious. Serious stomach ache can be a cause of concern. If it begins suddenly and unexpectedly, it should be considered a medical emergency, especially if the pain is concentrated in a particular area.
Stomach cramps in bloating often result from trapped gas. This is a very common problem that may seem embarrassing but is easy to handle. If stomach cramps have started recently and diarrhoea occurs, the cause may be bacteria or viruses in the stomach (gastroenteritis). This means that you have a viral or bacterial infection in the stomach and intestines, which should be better even without treatment after a few days.
However, in some cases the cause may be more complicated, that is, the cause of stomach problems may be a form of a disease that should be treated quickly.
In this article, we will consider the difference between a virus infection such as a stomach bug and irritable bowel syndrome.
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What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?
In this condition, the bowel function is in imbalance, but all intestines look normal even under careful testing. IBS can affect people of all ages, but it usually develops in young adults. Women are affected more often than men. Etiology behind the condition is not known, but researchers believe it is probably a multifactorial condition, and evidence suggests motility, inflammatory, genetic, immune, psychological and dietary components as causes.1
The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can vary individually.
The main symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain or cramps – usually worse after eating
- Bloating – your stomach may feel uncomfortable
- Diarrhoea – you may have watery stools and sometimes sudden cramps
- Constipation – you feel that the intestines do not drain completely after stools
The condition can also cause:
- Gas (flatulence)
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Urination problems – urge to urinate frequently and a feeling that the bladder doesn’t empty completely during urination
- Not always able to control faeces (incontinence)
One of the most important side effects is the changes in stools, so if you suspect this condition, it may help to record the changes, so it can be easier to diagnose.
There is no single diet or medication that heals the condition. But there are many things that can help if you have been diagnosed.
Smaller signs and symptoms can often be controlled by managing stress and making changes in diet and lifestyle. These include:
- Avoiding foods that trigger your symptoms
- Eating high-quality foods
- Drinking plenty of liquid
- Exercising regularly
- Getting enough sleep
You should always be reluctant when purchasing medical treatment for this particular condition because the drugs for IBS have a marginal effect at best of times. Therefore, we recommend that you always seek the help of a doctor for the right treatment.2
One of the most common treatments in the UK is Mebeverine, which you can purchase through a online clinic or pharmacy after a doctor’s consultation. This medicine will reduce the incidence of diarrhea so that you can continue your day as usual.
What is a gastrointestinal disease?
Gastroenteritis is an unspecific term for various gastrointestinal inflammatory diseases. Its most common symptoms and signs include diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Gastroenteritis (GE) is an inflammatory condition that also affects the gastrointestinal tract. Most of us have experienced a stomach virus at some point in life. Nausea, vomiting, loose and increased stools (diarrhoea) and mild fever are common symptoms of this type of infection, usually due to either viruses or bacteria. Usually, stomach bugs are caused by a bacterial or viral infection.
Stomach bugs can affect people of all ages, but they are especially common in young children. These types of infections can be very uncomfortable, but they usually go away by itself within a week. Often times you can take care of yourself or your child at home until you feel better. Usually, you do not need any treatment, but there are prescription drugs available at the pharmacy that can potentially relieve the pain.
Symptoms of a stomach bug can appear up to one day after the infection. They usually last less than a week, but can sometimes they can last longer.
The main symptoms of gastroenteritis are:
- Sudden, watery diarrhoea
- Mild fever
To ease your symptoms:
- Drink plenty of fluid to avoid dehydration – You must drink more than usual to replace the liquids that are lost from vomiting or diarrhea. Water is best, but you can also try fruit juice and soup.
- Painkiller can fight over the fever or pain
- Get a plenty of rest
- If you want to eat try small amounts of plain food, such as soup, rice, pasta and bread
- Use special rehydration beverages from pharmacies if you have signs of dehydration, such as dry mouth or dark urine
- Take medicine for vomiting and/or diarrhoea (such as loperamide) if you need to. Some types are available from pharmacies, but check the package leaflet that accompanies the medicine. You can also ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice on whether they are appropriate for your symptoms.
How do I know if it’s just a stomach bug?
IBS is much more common than many people think. The IBS Network estimates that between 10 and 20 percent of persons living in western countries will at any point in time fulfil the diagnostic criteria for IBS. Symptoms of IBS may come and go and, opportunistic infections can sometimes present signs which are similar.
Gastroenteritis is an acute condition, it usually only lasts for a few days and is mainly associated with diarrhoea, abdominal pain and nausea.
The main difference is the length of time the illness lasts. It should be noted however that the effects of gastric flu can be present for longer in a minority of cases: This is more common if the patient is depressed, anxious or has something going on in their life at the time. Some people can develop persistent symptoms resembling IBS after an attack of gastroenteritis.
Symptoms of IBS should occur at least once a week and have lasted for more than three months and there should be no evidence of another bowel disease such as cancer of the bowel, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or coeliac disease.
While the majority of us will have encountered gastric flu (more commonly known as a stomach bug) at some point in our lifetime. Nausea, vomiting, loose and increased stool frequency (diarrhoea) and mild fever are common fixtures of this type of infection, which is usually caused by either a virus or bacteria.
Difference between the symptoms
Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome may come and go, and as discussed above, other infections may occasionally present signs that are very similar. In the following is a separation of the symptoms:
Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Sensation of bloating
- Changes in bowel habits
- Excessive with gas
- Symptoms occur more than once a week, over a period of 3 months
Virus/bacterial infection symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Varying stools (diarrhoea)
- Mild fever
- Caused by bacteria or viruses
- Symptoms lasting only a few days, up to a week
When should you seek help?
Consultation with a physician or expert on the subject can help reduce the severity of bloating or minimize the occurrence. Consult a doctor if you or your child has a persistent stomach ache. The cause is often not serious and can be treated to reduce pain and duration. It is also important for those who have not received an IBS diagnosis, but experience increased intestinal movement to alert their physician, as it may be an indication of a condition that requires treatment.
- If the symptoms are severe and make a person feel very sick
- If symptoms are accompanied by weight loss or stools with blood
- Or if the symptoms have been going on for three months without any obvious reason
In these cases, the person should consult a doctor to determine if there may be a more serious cause behind the symptoms.