Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that can cause you persistent abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea or constipation, and it is usually related to depression, stress, anxiety, or a preceding intestinal infection.
IBS upsets your colon or large intestine and it is a chronic disease that you will have to manage for a long period – or even the rest of your life. However, there have been many advances in the treatment and management of IBS, so you can rest assured that you will be able to go on with your normal activities.
What Causes IBS?
It has been suggested that IBS is triggered by food sensitivities or nutritional allergies, but this is a statement that has not been proven. However, what we do know is that IBS is not infectious, contagious, or cancerous. Women are more likely to have it than men, and the starting point occurs before the age of 35 in about 50 % of the cases. IBS also has occurred following episodes of gastroenteritis.
Genetics also is thought as a possible cause of IBS, but so far a hereditary link has not been found in any of the cases. Symptoms of IBS may become worse during stressful periods or during menstruation, but these factors are not likely to be the issue that leads to the development of IBS.
What Are The Most Common Symptoms?
Only a small amount of people living with IBS show severe symptoms and complaints. These generally come and go in periods that could last for a couple of days up to a few months at a time, mostly during stressful times or after eating foods that make IBS act up.
This condition often first develops when a person is between 20 and 30 years of age. Furthermore, it is believed that IBS tends to affect one out of every five people at some point in their life. Women are two times more likely to get affected by it than men.
These are the most common symptoms associated with IBS:
- Flatulence (intestinal gas)
- Abdominal discomfort or pain
- Frequent and watery stools
- Abrupt urges to have bowel movements
- A sense of not being able to fully empty bowels
The good news is that even though symptoms and complications can be very uncomfortable, IBS does not cause dangerous variations in your bowel tissue or puts you at risk for colorectal cancer. You may find some of the symptoms of this disorder ease after a visit to the bathroom.
When to See Your GI Doctor
It is important that you go to your GI doctor if you feel you have IBS symptoms, so they can attempt to determine the cause.
Although your GI physician may be able to recognize IBS based on your symptoms, you should request blood tests to rule out any other conditions.
Unfortunately, it is believed that there is no cure for IBS; no medication or special diets will solve the issue but they will surely help you cope with the symptoms. The most basic pre-emptive measure is to identify and avoid your unique IBS triggers.
Here is a list of treatment options that you may want to consider:
- Try getting antispasmodic drugs; they may help with cramping.
- Eliminate or reduce common gas-inducing foods, such as raw vegetables.
- Increase your intake of dietary fiber. Also drink lots of clear fluids.
- Eliminate or reduce your intake of dairy foods. Lactose intolerance is usually a trigger.
- Try some anti-diarrhea medication if you have diarrhea-predominant IBS
- Try to better manage your stress levels. It is considered to be a trigger.
- Try coming up with eating routines and avoid sudden variations in your routine.
What Are The Risk Factors for Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Here is a list with some of the known risk factors for IBS:
- An overgrowth of the small intestinal bacteria
- Movements of the colon and small intestines that are too fast or slow, or too strong.
- Previous gastroenteritis (an infection of the stomach and intestines caused by virus or bacteria).
- Reproductive hormones or neurotransmitters that are be unbalanced may cause IBS in some people.
What Lifestyle Changes Should You Make?
If you have IBS or know someone who does, you can follow some easy instructions that will help with the symptoms and improve your health.
- Try eating smaller meals more often, or having smaller portions in general, as big meals can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea if you have IBS.
- Also try eating foods that are low in fat and high in carbohydrates. These could be whole-grain breads and pasta. Cereals, fruits, and vegetables, may help too.
- Fiber makes stool softer and easier to pass, so it may reduce constipation symptoms caused by IBS.
- And where can you find fiber? Well, in the above-mentioned foods such as cereals, fruits, vegetables and whole-grain breads.
- Try adding fiber to your diet at a slow rate, say, 2 to 3 grams a day. This is because some people with IBS may feel a bit more cramping after adding more fiber to their diet. This is why you should let your body first get used to it. In fact, too much fiber all at once can cause gas, which is a known trigger symptoms in people with IBS.
Also try avoiding or reducing these foods in your diet, for they may make symptoms worse:
- alcohol and caffeine
- foods high in fat
- dairy products
- drinks that are full of artificial sweeteners
- raw vegetables and other gas-inducing foods
Another very important thing to do is to identify those certain foods that trigger your symptoms. It might be helpful to start a journal to keep track of the following:
- what you eat throughout the day
- what symptoms you develop
- when symptoms appear
Take these your notes to your physician and discuss which foods are making your symptoms worse. Then you better stay away from them, or at least reduce them.
Finally, there is also a special diet called low FODMAP that your physician may recommend in order to reduce or avoid certain foods containing hard-to-digest carbohydrates.
Here’s a list of food to avoid, according to the FODMAP diet:
- Fruits such as blackberries, cherries, apples, mango, nectarines, plums, and watermelon. Also, juice containing any of these fruits.
- Artichokes, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic and garlic salts, lentils, mushrooms and onions.
- High-fructose corn syrup food such honey.
- Wheat and rye products
Some Things to Remember
- IBS is characterized by bloating, abdominal cramping and irregular diarrhea and constipation.
- Even though the cause is still mysterious, surrounding factors – like changes in your daily routine, emotional stress, infection and diet – can cause symptoms to act up.
- Some treatment options consist of careful variations in diet over a period of time, along with antispasmodics, laxatives or anti-diarrhea medicine.