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 unpleasant gastrointestinal disorder. Individuals with IBS have 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 can happen to multiple family members.
You might be at higher risk if you have:
- Family history of IBS
- Emotional stress, tension or anxiety
- Food intolerance
- History of physical or sexual abuse
- Serious digestive tract infection
What triggers IBS?
If you have IBS, you may have noticed that certain things produce symptoms. Typical triggers include some foods and medication. Psychological stress can also be a trigger. Some researchers suggest that IBS is the gut’s reaction to life’s stressors.
What are the causes of IBS?
Researchers don’t precisely know what leads to IBS. They believe 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.
What are IBS symptoms?
Symptoms of IBS consist of:
- Abdominal pain or cramps, usually in the lower half of the abdomen
- Bowel movements that are harder or looser than usual
- Diarrhea, constipation or rotating 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 again and again, which can make you feel stressed or upset. As you discover management methods and gain control over flare-ups, you’ll start to feel better, physically and mentally.
How is IBS diagnosed?
If you’ve been having unpleasant 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 frequently do you have symptoms?
- When did your symptoms begin?
- What medications 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 eliminate other disorders that mimic IBS.
What is IBS treatment?
No particular treatment works for everyone, but most individuals with IBS can find a treatment that works for them. Your healthcare provider will personalize your IBS treatment plan for your needs. Regular treatment options consist of dietary and lifestyle adjustments. A dietitian can help you develop 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
- Add supplemental fiber to your diet, such as Metamucil ® or Citrucel ®
- Drink plenty of water– eight 8-ounce glasses each day
- Avoid caffeine (from coffee, chocolate, teas, and sodas)
- Limit cheese and milk. Lactose intolerance is more common in individuals 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.
- Exercise on a regular basis
- Don’t smoke
- Try relaxation methods
- Eat smaller meals more often
- Record the foods you eat 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 health care provider may prescribe antidepressant medications if you have depression and anxiety along with considerable abdominal pain.
- Other medicines can help with diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal pain.
- Probiotics might be an option for you. These “good bacteria” can help improve symptoms.
- Talk to your provider if your symptoms do not improve. You might need more tests to see if an underlying condition is causing the symptoms.
For further information about Dr. Stengler’s practice and his clinic in Encinitas, California, please visit our website at MarkStengler.com or give us a call at (760) 274-2377.