What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a set of symptoms that impact your digestive system. It’s a common but unpleasant gastrointestinal disorder. People with IBS have excessive gas, abdominal pain, and cramps.
Who is at risk of getting IBS?
The condition usually 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 greater 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 found 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 response to life’s stressors.
What are the sources of IBS?
Researchers don’t exactly know what causes IBS. They think 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 usual
- Diarrhea, constipation or rotating between the two
- Excess gas
- Mucus in your poop (may look whitish)
Women with IBS may find that symptoms flare up during their periods. These symptoms commonly happen again and again, which can make you feel stressed or upset. As you learn management methods and gain control over flare-ups, you’ll begin to feel better, physically and mentally.
How is IBS diagnosed?
If you’ve been having uncomfortable GI symptoms, see your doctor. 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 begin?
- What medicines do you take?
- Have you been sick or had a stressful event in your life lately?
Depending on your symptoms, you might require other tests to confirm a diagnosis. Blood tests, stool samples and X-rays can help rule out other illnesses that resemble IBS.
What is IBS treatment?
No particular therapy works for everyone, but most individuals with IBS can find a treatment that works for them. Your doctor will customize your IBS treatment plan for your needs. Typical treatment options include dietary and lifestyle changes. 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.
- Include 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 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.
- Do not smoke.
- Try relaxation strategies.
- 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 doctor might 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 may be an option for you. These “good bacteria” can help improve symptoms.
Speak with your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve. You may need more tests to see if an underlying condition is causing the symptoms.