HAVING IBS CALLS FOR A GUT CHECK
I know several people living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The common denominator is that each has a very sensitive digestive tract. Seeking more information on IBS I found that there is no cure. However, folks who suffer from it can control and improve symptoms through diet and lifestyle changes. My online research led me to a comprehensive article from Cleveland Clinic titled simply Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Here are excerpts:
If you have irritable bowel syndrome, you might have uncomfortable or painful abdominal symptoms. Constipation, diarrhea, gas and bloating are common IBS symptoms. IBS doesn’t damage your digestive tract or raise your risk for colon cancer. You can often control symptoms through diet and lifestyle changes
IBS is a type of functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder. These conditions, also called disorders of the gut-brain interaction, have to do with problems in how your gut and brain work together. These problems cause your digestive tract to be very sensitive. They also change how your bowel muscles contract. The result is abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation.
Experts estimate that about 10% to 15% of the adult population in the United States have IBS. However, only 5% to 7% receive an IBS diagnosis. It’s the most common disease that gastroenterologists diagnose
What are the different types of IBS?
Researchers categorize IBS based on the type of bowel movement problems you have. The kind of IBS can affect your treatment. Certain medicines only work for certain types of the syndrome.
Often, people with IBS have normal bowel movements some days and abnormal ones on other days. The type of IBS you have depends on the abnormal bowel movements you experience:
In people with IBS, the colon muscle tends to contract more than in people without the condition. These contractions cause cramps and pain. People with IBS also tend to have a lower pain tolerance. Research has also suggested that people with irritable bowel syndrome may have excess bacteria in the GI tract, contributing to symptoms.
Who is at risk for developing IBS?
You may be at higher risk if you have:
- Family history of IBS.
- Emotional stress, tension or anxiety.
- Food intolerance
- Severe digestive tract infection.
What triggers IBS?
If you have IBS, you may have noticed that certain things trigger symptoms. Common triggers include some foods and medication. Emotional stress can also be a trigger. Some researchers suggest that it’s the gut’s response to life’s stressors.
What are the Causes & Symptoms of IBS?
Researchers don’t exactly know what causes IBS. They think a combination of factors can lead to IBS, including:
- Dysmotility: Problems with how your GI muscles contract and move food through the GI tract.
- Visceral hypersensitivity: Extra-sensitive nerves in the GI tract.
- Brain-gut dysfunction: Miscommunication between nerves in the brain and gut.
Symptoms of IBS include:
- Abdominal pain or cramps, usually in the lower half of the abdomen.
- Bowel movements that are harder or looser than usual.
- Diarrahea, constipation or alternating between the two.
- Excess gas.
- Mucus in your poop (may look whitish).
How is IBS diagnosed?
If you’ve been having uncomfortable GI symptoms, see your healthcare provider. The first step in diagnosing IBS is a medical history and a physical exam. Your provider will ask you about your symptoms:
- Do you have pain related to bowel movements?
- Do you notice a change in how often you have a bowel movement?
- Has there been a change in how your poop looks?
- How often do you have symptoms?
- When did your symptoms start?
- What medicines do you take?
- Have you been sick or had a stressful event in your life recently?
Depending on your symptoms, you may need other tests to confirm a diagnosis. Blood tests, stool samples and X-rays can help rule out other diseases that mimic IBS.
If you have IBS symptoms, first talk to your primary care physician or regular healthcare provider. Your provider may refer you to a gastroenterologist. A gastroenterologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the digestive system.
What is IBS treatment?
No specific therapy works for everyone, but most people with IBS can find a treatment that works for them. Your healthcare provider will personalize your treatment plan for your needs. Typical treatment options include dietary and lifestyle changes. A dietitian can help you create a diet that fits your life.
Many people find that with these changes, symptoms improve:
- Increase fiber in your diet — eat more fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts.
- Add supplemental fiber to your diet, such as Metamucil® or Citrucel®.
- Drink plenty of water — eight 8-ounce glasses per day.
- Avoid caffeine (from coffee, chocolate, teas and sodas).
- Limit cheese and milk. Lactose intolerance is more common in people with IBS. Make sure to get calcium from other sources, such as broccoli, spinach, salmon or supplements.
- Try the low FODMAP diet an eating plan that can help improve symptoms. [Please check out my August 7, 2020 post The low-FODMAP Diet Could Change Your Life ]
- Exercise regularly.
- Don’t smoke.
- Try relaxation techniques.
- Eat smaller meals more often.
- Record the foods you eat so you can figure out which foods trigger IBS flare-ups. Common triggers are red peppers, green onions, red wine, wheat and cow’s milk.
- Your provider may prescribe antidepressant medications if you have depression and anxiety along with significant abdominal pain.
- Other medicines can help with diarrhea, constipation or abdominal pain.
- Probiotics may be an option for you. These “good bacteria” can help improve symptoms.
- Talk to your provider if your symptoms don’t improve. You may need more tests to see if an underlying condition is causing the symptoms.
Since there is no known cause for IBS, you can’t prevent or avoid it. If you have IBS, you can keep symptoms from flaring up by avoiding triggers.
It may be frustrating trying to get a handle on IBS. Treatment can often be trial and error. But the good news is that nearly everyone with IBS can find a treatment that helps them.
Usually, diet and activity changes improve symptoms over time. You may need some patience as you figure out your triggers so you can take steps to avoid them. But after a few weeks or months, you should notice significant improvement in how you feel. A nutritionist can help you plan a healthy, filling diet that meets your needs.
See your healthcare provider if you have symptoms more than three times a month for more than three months. And if you have symptoms less often, but they interfere with your life, it’s a good idea to talk to your provider.
How can I best take care of myself if I have IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome will likely be with you for life. But it doesn’t shorten your lifespan, and you won’t need surgery to treat it. To feel your best, try to identify and avoid your triggers, including certain foods, medications and stressful situations. A dietitian can help you plan a nutritious diet around your specific needs. Talk to your healthcare provider if symptoms don’t improve.
Living with irritable bowel syndrome can be challenging. IBS symptoms, such as stomach pain, diarrhea, gas and bloating, often interfere with your life. But IBS is manageable. Though there is no cure, you can control and improve symptoms through diet and lifestyle changes. If you have stomach symptoms that aren’t going away, talk to your healthcare provider. Together, you can find an IBS treatment plan that works for you.