Irritable is meant to indicate heightened sensitivity.
It implies that the nerve endings in the bowel wall, which control muscle function and affect sensation of the gut, are unusually sensitive. This means that even normal conditions that can stimulate the bowel such as eating a meal, having a menstrual period, feeling daily stress or pressure at work may lead to a greater response for persons with IBS when compared to others. This includes a flare up of symptoms and is likely associated with the nerves and muscles of the bowel becoming more active producing diarrhea, bloating, or pain and discomfort.
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