How does your bowel work?

The digestive system (also known as the digestive tract) is like a long tube that starts at your mouth and ends at the anus. It is divided up into different parts:

Upper digestive system

This comprises of your mouth including your teeth, tongue and the salivary glands
The gullet or oesophagus is the tube that passes the food from your mouth down your throat, down the middle of your chest and into the stomach
The stomach is like a reservoir that stores the food while various enzymes and acid are mixed with it to help break it down.

Middle to Lower digestive system

The opening of the stomach along to the anus is known as the gut or bowel. Often we think of the bowel as the part by the anus but it is in fact a long part of the digestive system and comprises the small and large intestine.

Small Intestine

This is narrower than the large intestine and is approx. 4-7 metres long in adults. The lining plays an important role in absorbing crucial nutrients from the food that has by now become a liquid mush! Any parts that have not been digested such as fibre do not get absorbed here but continue into the large intestine.

Large Intestine (colon)

The large intestine is not as long as the small intestine, just over 1 metre long, but it is much wider. Water and minerals in the liquid that ends up in the large intestine get removed at this point and the solid that is left makes its way along and eventually out! If you have diarrhea then the water is not getting removed in the large intestines or the liquid mush is not in the large intestine long enough to have its water removed.

How the system worksDigestive System

Food moves along your bowel by muscle contractions that happen without you having to think about it. These contractions produce a wave like process that moves food along. Not only that but it also helps to churn up the food and mix it effectively with digestive enzymes and stomach acid. Most people will be unware of this activity but people with irritable bowel syndrome can often feel these contractions and even the bulk as it moves along. For me it can feel like intense pressure in a particular area of the bowel usually the lower right hand side.

Symptoms

It is thought that some of the symptoms of IBS occur when the contractions of the gut get out of order. If the waves of contraction get quicker then you get diarrhea. However if the contractions are slowed down then constipation results. Sometimes the gut can stay contracted causing a spasm and the resulting stools may become like stringy like ribbons or like rabbit droppings!

If you suffer from wind then it may be due to the bowel dilatating between spasms. If this happens when your gut is empty then your gut can fill up with air thus causing painful wind and bloating.

[Resources: The IBS Diet: Sarah Brewer & Michelle Berriedale-Johnson; Irritable Bowel Syndrome: NetDoctor]

(This is information only and MUST NOT be taken as medical advice. If you have a medical problem, please consult your doctor.)

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