If you’ve been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you’re more than aware of the abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, nausea, and constipation that go along with it. If you’re having some combination of those symptoms intermittently, you may have IBS without realizing it.
If you have reason to wonder, there’s no time like the present to get into your doctor for a diagnosis. April is IBS Awareness Month, when the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders works to spread the word about IBS, encourage people to seek treatment, and offer advice for anyone living with IBS.
IBS is extremely common
Gastroenterologists diagnose IBS more than any other disease. It affects 10-15% of Americans, but only a shockingly low 5-7% have been diagnosed, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. If you’re a woman, you’re twice as likely to have IBS. The reasons for that are unclear, and it doesn’t seem to be linked to hormones.
IBS doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t have dairy or gluten or anything else
While it’s true that some people with IBS also have food intolerances, there is no direct link to any particular food. Because no one food is bad for all people with IBS, each person needs to experiment with foods to find out what worsens or improves the disorder. It’s a good idea to keep a notebook wherein you note each day what you ate and how you felt. Fair warning, though: For some IBS sufferers, symptoms come and go without any link to changes in diet.
What IBS is and isn’t
Put simply, IBS is a chronic disorder that causes abdominal pain or discomfort and recurrent diarrhea or constipation (or both). American College of Gastroenterology notes that IBS is not life-threatening, can be worsened by stress or anxiety, and is related to changes within nerves and muscles in the bowel.
- Cancer or a precursor to cancer
- Related to yeast in the gut
- Cured by fiber
- The same thing as lactose intolerance
- A psychiatric disorder
Feeling better may start with lifestyle
Although no one can prescribe a surefire regimen for combating symptoms, lifestyle changes seem to bring good results for most patients. It all comes down to trial and error to find what works for you. Some changes to try include:
- Eat more slowly, avoid chewing gum, and skip the carbonated beverages to stave off bloating.
- Keep gas-producing foods to a minimum. A FODMAP diet, which avoids foods like fructose, lactose, beans, onions, broccoli, and cabbage, has helped IBS sufferers reduce the discomfort of gas.
- Fiber can help, but only if you choose the dissolvable variety, start slow, and drink a lot of water with the fiber. Insoluble fiber actually can cause more bloating.
- As with any health condition, IBS becomes easier to live with when you learn to reduce stress and anxiety. That’s a highly personal endeavor, but tried-and-true methods include meditation, exercise, and any hobby that relaxes you.
If you have questions about irritable bowel syndrome or any other health-related issue, we’re ready to help. Just contact us at 317-462-5544 and find your care team.