What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a group of symptoms that affect your digestive system. It’s a common but uncomfortable gastrointestinal disorder. People with IBS get excessive gas, abdominal pain and cramps.
Who is at risk of getting IBS?
The condition most often occurs in people in their late teens to early 40s. Women can be twice as likely as men to get IBS. IBS may happen to multiple family members.
You might be at higher risk if you have:
- Family history of IBS
- Psychological stress, tension, or anxiety
- Food intolerance
- History of physical or sexual abuse
- Serious digestive tract infection
What triggers IBS?
If you have IBS, you might have noticed that certain things trigger symptoms. Typical triggers include some foods and medication. Emotional stress can also be a trigger. Some researchers suggest that IBS is the gut’s reaction to life’s stressors.
What are the sources of IBS?
Researchers don’t specifically know what causes IBS. They believe a combination of factors can cause 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.
What are IBS symptoms?
Symptoms of IBS include:
- Abdominal pain or cramps, usually in the lower half of the abdomen
- Bowel movements that are harder or looser than normal
- Diarrhea, constipation or alternating between the two
- Excess gas
- Mucus in your poop (may look whitish)
Women with IBS might find that symptoms flare up during their periods. These symptoms commonly occur over and over, which can make you feel stressed or upset. As you discover management techniques and gain control over flare-ups, you’ll begin to feel better, physically and mentally.
How is IBS diagnosed?
If you’ve been having unpleasant GI symptoms, see your doctor. The first step in diagnosing IBS is a medical history and a physical exam. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms:
- Do you have pain related to bowel movements?
- Do you notice a change in how frequently 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 begin?
- What medicines do you take?
- Have you been sick or had a stressful event in your life recently?
Depending on your symptoms, you may require other tests to confirm a diagnosis. Blood tests, stool samples as well as X-rays can help rule out other illnesses that resemble IBS.
What is IBS treatment?
No particular therapy works for everyone, but most people with IBS can find a treatment that works for them. Your doctor will personalize your IBS treatment plan for your needs. Regular treatment options include dietary and lifestyle changes. A dietitian can help you establish a diet that fits your life.
Many individuals find that with these adjustments, symptoms improve:
- Increase fiber in your diet– consume more fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts.
- Include supplemental fiber to your diet, such as Metamucil ® or Citrucel ®. Drink plenty of water– eight 8-ounce glasses daily.
- Avoid caffeine (from coffee, chocolate, teas and sodas).
- Limit cheese and milk. Lactose intolerance is more common in people with IBS. Be 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.
Exercise on a regular basis.
- Don’t smoke.
- Try relaxation methods.
- Eat smaller meals more often.
- Note the foods you consume so you can figure out which foods trigger IBS flare-ups. Typical triggers are red peppers, green onions, red wine, wheat and cow’s milk.
- Your doctor may prescribe antidepressant medications if you have depression and anxiety together 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 doctor if your symptoms do not improve. You may need more tests to see if an underlying condition is causing the symptoms.