Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – Everything You Need to Know

Around 3%-20% of people experience symptoms of IBS or irritable bowel syndrome. The condition seems to be more prevalent among women. While some of those who experience the condition only develop minor symptoms, there are those that suffer from symptoms that are significant enough that it can disrupt even their day-to-day lives.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What do I need to know about IBS? 

Irritable bowel syndrome refers to a group of symptoms afflicting the intestines that generally occur together. Also referred to as irritable colon, spastic colitis, mucous colitis, and spastic colon, it shouldn’t be confused with inflammatory bowel disease or IBD and is not related to other types of bowel conditions. Symptoms tend to vary in terms of duration and severity for every person. In general, they tend to last for around 3 days a month for around 3 months.

There are cases when the condition can lead to intestinal damage, although this is significantly rare.

The condition does not increase the possibility of you developing gastrointestinal cancers. However, it can come with symptoms that are severe enough that it can significantly disrupt your daily life.

What are symptoms of IBS? 

Among the most common symptoms associated with IBS are:

  • Gas and bloating
  • Cramping
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhoea

People with IBS can sometimes experience both diarrhoea and constipation. The moment you get bowel movement, however, symptoms like gas and bloating tend to clear out as well.

IBS symptoms in women

Women with the condition tend to suffer from the symptoms around the time they have their period, or they tend to exacerbate around this time of the month. Compared to women who still have their period, menopausal women seem to experience a significant let-up of the symptoms they are experiencing. There are also instances when women experience an increase in symptoms while pregnant.

IBS symptoms in men

The symptoms that men experience tend to be similar to women. However, most men tend not to report the symptoms they are experiencing, and fewer still choose to seek treatment.

What does IBS feel like? 

Pain associated with IBS is very similar to cramping. Along with the cramping, it is also possible to experience the following:

  • Changes in your bowel movement frequency
  • Some pain relief after bowel movement
  • Changes in your stool’s appearance

How is IBS diagnosed? 

When diagnosing the condition, your doctor will look into your symptoms. They may also consider any of the following steps to zero in on a diagnosis of the symptoms you are experiencing:

  • Recommend that you follow a specific diet or avoid eating specific foods for a certain period in order to rule out potential food allergies.
  • Carry out a stool exam to ensure you don’t have an infection.
  • Get blood tests to check for anemia and to ensure you don’t have celiac disease.
  • Require you to undergo a colonoscopy.

Your doctor will only likely require you to get a colonoscopy if he has reason to believe that your symptoms may be due to colitis, cancer, or Crohn’s disease (inflammatory bowel disease).

Does a diet work for IBS? 

Some people will find considerable relief from IBS symptoms by introducing some changes to their diet. However, since IBS symptoms tend to be different for every person, it is important to personalize these dietary changes.

Can you treat IBS? 

IBS does not have a cure. Treatment of the condition depends heavily on relieving the symptoms. Your doctor is likely to recommend lifestyle changes. Below are some “home remedies” that are recommended before you start taking any IBS medication.

What are home remedies for IBS? 

Lifestyle changes and some home remedies may help relieve many of the symptoms associated with IBS. This can work even without any aid of medication. Among these are:

  • Cutting back consumption of caffeinated beverages since they can lead to intestinal stimulation
  • Regular physical exercise
  • Consuming smaller portioned meals
  • Taking probiotics as this helps increase the “good” bacteria in the intestines and relieve bloating and gas
  • Minimizing stress- in some cases, talk therapy can also be helpful
  • Avoiding spicy and deep-fried foods

What can you eat if you have IBS? 

Properly managing your diet when you have irritable bowel syndrome is always worth it. Modifying your consumption of certain foods or taking some entirely out of your diet can also do wonders. This is especially true when it comes to indigestible sugars, fried foods, dairy, and beans. Some people have found considerable relief in adding herbs and spices to their diet, including peppermint, chamomile, and ginger.

What are the best medications for IBS? 

If home remedies do not do anything to alleviate any of the symptoms you are experiencing, the best thing to do is consider taking medications your doctor advises you to take. Different people tend to have their own unique responses to certain medications, so closely working with your doctor is crucial to find the right combination that will work best for you.

As is the same with other medications, be upfront with your doctor regarding current medications you’re already taking. It doesn’t matter if they are over-the-counter drugs or just herbal remedies. This ensures that your doctor can choose the proper medications that will not potentially interact negatively with the ones you’re currently taking.

Some drugs are meant to treat all of the symptoms associated with IBS. Others are specifically formulated to address a specific symptom. Among the most common drugs used in treating BS symptoms include anti-constipation drugs, spasm control medications, antibiotics, and even tricyclic antidepressants as they help ease IBS pains. If you’re suffering mainly from constipation due to IBS, then lubiprostone and linaclotide are the most common drugs that the ACG or the American College of Gastroenterology recommends.

 

What causes IBS?  

While there are usually different ways to treat and manage IBS, the exact cause of the condition is still not known. Some believe that it may be due to colon oversensitivity or an oversensitive immune system. Postinfectious IBS may be due to a past gastrointestinal tract bacterial infection. It is this very varied potential cause of the condition that makes it even harder to prevent.

There is a myriad of physical processes that IBS involves. Among these are:

  • Abnormal levels of serotonin in the colon. This can affect a person’s bowel movements and motility.
  • Spastic or slowed colon movements. This can lead to excruciating cramps.
  • Mild celiac disease can wreak havoc in the intestines. This can also lead to IBS symptoms.

What can trigger IBS? 

People can better manage IBS and the symptoms associated with it by watching out for potential triggers and actively avoiding them. There are certain foods that seem to trigger the symptoms. In addition, anxiety and stress seem to cause the symptoms to manifest or exacerbate as well.

Certain foods have been identified to be common triggers among those who suffer from the condition. However, the severity of the effects of these foods can vary from person to person. Therefore, it wouldn’t hurt to keep a food diary for a certain period to make it easier to identify which foods are your triggers.

The ability to recognize ahead of time certain situations that are likely to exacerbate your anxiety and stress levels can help immensely too. With this, you can craft a strategy that will make it possible for you to minimize, if not avoid them entirely.

Stress and IBS

Your nervous system holds considerable control over the motility or the automatic movement of the digestive system. Stress can affect the nerves, causing them to become overactive. If you are diagnosed with IBS, your colon becomes over-sensitive to even the slightest disruption to the digestive system. It is believed that IBS may also be affected by the immune system, primarily since it responds to stress.

Weight loss and IBS

IBS does not seem to cause any effect on the weight of the people suffering from the condition. However, it can cause weight loss, especially if you aren’t eating enough to maintain your current weight while also actively avoiding the symptoms. Cramping tends to be more prominent after meals. In addition, if you seem to experience frequent diarrhoea, you may not be getting enough nutrition from the food you consume. As a result, you may experience weight loss.

Diarrhoea and IBS

A specific type of IBS is one associated with diarrhoea. The condition generally affects the large intestine. Among the most common symptoms of this type of IBS includes nausea and frequent bowel movement. There are also people who suffer from this type of IBS that lose their bowel control on some occasions.

Constipation and IBS

This type of IBS is generally prevalent among young adults and adolescents. They tend to suffer from hard stools, experience constipation, and pass less frequently as well.