Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable Bowel (IBS) is a “syndrome”, meaning a group of symptoms. The common symptoms of IBS are belly pain or discomfort, cramping, bloating, gas, the feeling that you have not finished a bowel movement, diarrhea and/or constipation.
IBS is not a disease. It is a functional disorder, meaning that the bowel doesn’t work, or function, the right way. IBS affects the colon, or large intestine, where stool is stored.
What causes IBS?
The exact cause of IBS is not clear. The nerves and muscles in the bowel appear to be extra sensitive in people with IBS and work more slowly or quickly than it should. Muscles may contract too much when you eat causing cramping, spasms, and/or diarrhea shortly after a meal. Nerves may react when the bowel stretches, causing cramping or pain.
How is IBS diagnosed?
Your health care provider may suspect you have IBS based on your cluster of symptoms. Learning your symptoms (belly pain, diarrhea, constipation or both), helps choose your treatment. Physical exams, blood tests and other medical tests might be done to make sure there are no other health problems causing symptoms.
How common is IBS?
If you suffer from the symptoms of IBS you are not alone. IBS is one of the most common digestive problems in the U. S. with more than 85 million people affected; both men and women of any age or race.
- Some foods and drinks make IBS symptoms worse (fatty foods, milk products, chocolate, carbonated drinks, caffeine, and alcohol) and some foods make IBS symptoms better (high fiber foods- breads, cereals, beans, fruits and vegetables).
- To find out which foods are a problem, keep a diary. Write down what you eat and drink, when and what symptoms you have, your bowel movements, and/or stress issues for 2 weeks. Avoid eating the foods you find bother you to see if this improves your symptoms.
- Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day to keep hydrated.
- Slowly add foods with fiber, or fiber products, to your diet. Add a little at a time to let your body get used to them. Too much fiber at once can cause gas, which can trigger symptoms in a person with IBS.
- Eat four or five small meals a day. Large meals can cause cramping and/or diarrhea in people with IBS.
Stress does not cause IBS but it can make your symptoms worse.
- Learning to reduce stress can help symptoms. It might lessen cramping and pain.
- Identify the causes of stress in your life and learn better or new ways to cope with them.
- Regular exercise is a great way to relieve stress (and helps ease constipation).
- Get enough hours of sleep at night.
- Set some time aside for yourself and do something you enjoy.
Medications sometimes can help with symptoms.
- Laxatives treat constipation. There are many kinds offered over the counter.
- Antispasmodics control spasms in the colon and help ease pain.
- Antidepressants may help the nerves and muscles causing IBS symptoms.
- Antidiarrheal medicines to help with diarrhea.
We can talk to you about which medicine is right for your type and symptoms of IBS, and the potential side effects.