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Smoking and IBS: What You Should Know

Smoking and IBS

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Smoking is commonly known to affect the lungs as smoke enters the body through inhalation. However, studies have shown that the effects of smoking are not limited to the respiratory system. It affects the entire body, as nicotine and other harmful chemicals immediately enter the bloodstream.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the diseases that is heavily associated with smoking. It is a condition that needs to be managed long-term. Having said that, it is important to know how smoking can lead to or affect IBS, especially those who are diagnosed and trying to get healthier through treatments.

Learn more about smoking, irritable bowel syndrome, and how one might affect the other.

The Effects of Cigarette Smoking on Your Body

Cigarette smoking is highly addictive as it contains nicotine, one of the most commonly abused drugs. When a person smokes, nicotine enters the body and sends signals to the brain. In this process, nicotine activates the brain’s reward system and the release of dopamine, which is associated with feeling good, satisfaction, and pleasure. 

Dopamine triggers the brain to repeat the behavior. This is what makes the smoker crave another cigarette. It is so addictive that smoking one cigarette can trigger nicotine addiction.

The World Health Organization states that tobacco can kill up to half its users. Statistics show that almost half a million Americans die prematurely from smoking or from exposure to secondhand smoke, which is just as dangerous. Smoking has been linked to several diseases that could be preventable, but it’s so hard to quit due to the presence of nicotine and the withdrawal symptoms. 

The following health risks are associated with cigarette smoking:

  • Stroke
  • Tuberculosis
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Emphysema
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Other lung diseases
  • Eye diseases
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Gall stones
  • Pancreatitis
  • Blood clots
  • Lung cancer
  • Cancer of the digestive organs
  • Oral health diseases

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Woman having abdominal pain.

Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a chronic condition that affects the digestive system. This condition can affect people of all ages. Most people who suffer from IBS are under the age of 50. The exact cause of IBS is not known, but several factors may play a role, such as early life stress, severe infection, changes in gut health, intestinal muscle contractions, and abnormalities in the nerves of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

IBS symptoms are said to be unpredictable, but its main symptoms are:

  • Chronic and persistent abdominal pain
  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or both
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Nausea
  • Passing excess gas
  • Weight loss

Since it is a chronic condition, it may not go away completely. IBS symptoms can range from mild to severe debilitation, potentially disrupting a person’s daily activities, leading to a poor quality of life. It can also lead to depression and anxiety. These can impair a person’s well-being in different aspects: emotional, physical, mental health, social, economic, and educational.

According to research, IBS has no known cure. There is no medicine that can be taken to completely eliminate IBS. It can, however, be managed with proper medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment plan. Managing IBS may include:

  • Diet changes, such as incorporating high-fiber food and avoiding fried and fatty food
  • Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise and quitting smoking
  • Relaxation methods
  • Taking probiotics
  • Over-the-counter medicines to relieve symptoms like diarrhea

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) vs Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

IBS is commonly interchanged with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but the two are different gastrointestinal disorders. While IBS is a condition of the gastrointestinal tract, IBD on the other hand is a disease that can cause destructive inflammation and permanent damage to the intestines. IBS and IBD share common features and can occur together.

IBD is an umbrella term of disorders that causes chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, and two of the most common disorders are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. 

Crohn’s disease is a long-term condition wherein there is swelling or inflammation along the digestive tract. Different factors can lead to this disease such as having a weak immune system or an autoimmune disease, genes or heredity, and smoking. Its symptoms include fever, fatigue, diarrhea, abdominal pain, abdominal cramping, and pain near or around the anus.

Ulcerative colitis affects the innermost lining of the colon, the rectum, or both. It causes inflammations and ulcers, which are erosions in the tissue of the large intestine. Symptoms include fever, bleeding, anemia, and weight loss. Its cause is unknown, but some factors may be an autoimmune condition, genes, and infection.

What Happens When You Have IBS and You Smoke?

ibs and heartburn

Smoking alone affects the entire body. It negatively impacts digestive health in multiple ways. Nicotine can alter the muscles of the intestine to move too fast, leading to symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, indigestion, gas, and dyspepsia.

Moreover, people who smoke cigarettes that are diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease can experience flare ups of symptoms. They are also at increased risk for other health issues. Here are different ways of how smoking can lead to IBS or make existing IBS symptoms worse:

Smoking disrupts your gut flora.

Gut or intestinal flora refers to the “good” bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. These help the body stay healthy by fighting off “bad bacteria” and support digestion. When the body has more bad bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, it can lead to IBS or make existing IBS symptoms worse.

Additionally, there is a risk of developing health issues such as allergies, skin rashes, thyroid issues, type 1 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, increase in stomach acid or hyperacidity, heartburn, indigestion, and bloating. 

Smoking can give you heartburn.

Several studies show that heartburn and IBS occur together. Smoking weakens the esophageal sphincter, which is responsible for keeping fluids in your stomach, such as acid. When stomach acid flows back to your esophagus, it may lead to heartburn. 

Serious complications are not usually associated with heartburn as it can be treated with physician-prescribed medicine. However, if left untreated, it may damage the tissue lining of the esophagus. It can lead to other conditions such as esophagitis, ulcers, aspiration pneumonia, and Barrett’s esophagus. Additionally, frequent episodes can lead to esophageal cancer.

Smoking may lead to peptic ulcer.

Smoking irritates the digestive system by increasing stomach acids over a period of time, causing peptic ulcer or sores in the lining of the stomach and in the duodenum, the first portion of the small intestine. This exacerbates existing IBS conditions by ten times. 

Smoking can increase your risk for cancer of the digestive system.

Nicotine in cigarettes has carcinogenic properties. It can promote cancer in the gastrointestinal tract, doubling your risk for the disease.

While cancer is not part of IBS, both conditions share the same features. A physician who will need to provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment will first need to rule out IBS.

Smokers are at risk of developing Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s disease is a type of IBD that can occur with IBS. It causes inflammation of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, and it commonly occurs in the small intestine and the colon (large intestine). While inflammation is an immune response in fighting off infection, it persists for a long time in ulcerative colitis. This leads to serious health risks such as cardiovascular disease and colon cancer.

Tips to Quit Cigarette Smoking to Improve Overall Health

A woman listening to audio through her earphones.

There is no safe level of consumption of tobacco products. The best way to prevent gastrointestinal symptoms and further health risks that are associated with smoking is to quit. For people who have existing IBS, smoking can trigger the stress response in the body that makes IBS symptoms worse. 

Here are different methods to help one quit smoking.

Keep the Benefits in Mind

Remember why you started your journey to being smoke-free. It will lower your risk for health issues such as stroke, blood clots, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, respiratory diseases, and gastrointestinal diseases. Additionally, quitting smoking will not make IBS symptoms worse. It will also help you to read different articles online to keep you informed of the impact of smoking and the benefits of quitting.

You may experience the benefits of quitting an hour after the last cigarette. The heart rate drops, as well as blood pressure. In 12 hours, the body cleanses itself from the toxins that come from smoking, such as carbon monoxide. This increases the body’s oxygen levels. 

After 24 hours since the last cigarette, the risk for heart attack begins to decrease. After 3 days, there will be improvement in the sense of taste and smell. Now, the nicotine level in the body is depleted. Be prepared for nicotine withdrawal.

In the next months, your body’s circulation improves. This means that your organs are functioning better. Your lung heals and increases capacity, which leads to less shortness of breath. A year after smoking, the risk for coronary heart diseases is reduced by half. The lungs are significantly healthier too. As you avoid cigarette smoking for 10 to 20 years, your body reduces the risk for developing lung cancer and pancreatic cancer. 

Learn about Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)

NRTs are designed to supply your body with a steady dose of nicotine to help curb cravings. NRT options may include nasal spray, gum, lozenges, or nicotine patches. It is important to note that one may experience withdrawal symptoms with NRT. Nicotine may also aggravate existing IBS conditions. Consult your doctor first and provide accurate personal data to make sure that this is the proper treatment for you.

Engage in Physical Activities

In the management of IBS, daily exercise is recommended. This can also help distract you from cravings, especially in the first week after quitting where withdrawals are the worst. Exercise can also help you manage withdrawal symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, mood swings, or even depression. When the urge to smoke strikes, consider going for a walk or a quick jog. Take it up a notch by creating a workout routine that incorporates other forms of activities.

Listen to Hypnosis Audio

Studies show that hypnotherapy is an effective method to quit smoking or vaping. You can use your smartphone by downloading an app to listen to hypnosis audio. This free mobile app is designed to help you quit smoking, improve your health, and create lasting change.

It has an easy to follow program that allows you to track your progress and how much you have saved on cigarettes. Hypnotherapy is safe, 100% natural, and it can be combined with other smoking cessation methods.

Talk to Your Doctor

Your doctor may give you prescription medicine to quit smoking and manage withdrawal symptoms. He could also recommend other smoking cessation methods that are optimal for your health and won’t aggravate irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease. Your physician can also refer you to counseling to help patients manage substance dependence.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does smoking cause irritable bowel syndrome?

The exact cause of IBS is not known. However, smoking increases your risk for gastrointestinal health issues such as diarrhea, heartburn, and gut flora imbalance. Smoking can make IBS symptoms worse.

What should smokers with IBS do?

Smoking can make people with IBS sensitive to the effects of tobacco products on the digestive system. It is highly recommended for smokers with IBS to stop smoking and to seek help from a medical professional.

Should I continue smoking if I have ulcerative colitis?

While nicotine may help decrease the inflammation of ulcerative colitis, it is important to remember that smoking poses many other health risks such as Crohn’s Disease, stroke. cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, cancer, and oral health problems, to mention a few. The health risks that come with cigarette smoking outweigh its positive effect on ulcerative colitis.

Is vaping a safe alternative if I am diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome?

It is not recommended to replace smoking with vape or e-cigarettes. Vaping liquids contain nicotine and other chemicals that negatively impact digestive health.

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