Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder in which abdominal discomfort or pain is associated with a range of symptoms. It affects an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the U.S. population.
While anyone can be diagnosed with (IBS), it is more common in women and younger adults. The classic symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain with alteration in bowel habits, including diarrhea and constipation, occurring over a long period of time. If any of these symptoms have persisted longer than you would typically expect with a viral infection or bad food reaction, then you should consult with a physician about the possibility of IBS.
It is important to know that symptoms, like bleeding, significant weight loss or anemia, are typically not associated with IBS and could warrant medical evaluation for a more serious condition.
The cause of IBS is unknown, and it cannot be cured, but there are common triggers that can cause symptoms to worsen. Some IBS patients report that their symptoms get worse during times of emotional stress, so having healthy stress management techniques can be important.
Diet can also have a significant impact on IBS symptoms, so it is important to keep a food diary to determine which foods may contribute to your symptoms. Every IBS patient is different, but there are certain food groups that prove to be harder on digestion than others. For example, foods like beans, carrots and prunes are known to be gas-forming and can cause bloating and discomfort.
Foods that are high in lactose can also cause exaggerated responses in people with IBS, even if they are not necessarily lactose intolerant. Some have found that a gluten-free diet may decrease IBS symptoms, and research also supports a FODMAP-friendly diet that avoids short chain carbohydrates that can be poorly absorbed in the small intestine. Again, when experimenting with eliminating different food groups from your diet, keeping a food diary will help distinguish which foods are triggering or improving your symptoms.
Physicians may recommend over-the-counter and prescription medications to help treat constipation, diarrhea and the pain associated with IBS as needed. Some anti-depression medications can help curb IBS symptoms.
When managing IBS, it is important to work closely with your physician and be open-minded to a multi-disciplinary approach. With a healthy combination of diet and stress management, and medication as needed, you can likely find significant relief from your IBS symptoms.