What is IBS?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can be defined as a common chronic illness that impacts the lining of your stomach (bowel). While your bowel itself appears undamaged to an expert eye, its functioning becomes compromised causing symptoms like constipation and cramping to arise.
One in five individuals will experience IBS during their lives; women are twice more likely than men to suffer from IBS Symptoms, with symptoms typically appearing between 20-30 years of age.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome should not be confused with Inflammatory Intestinal Disease (IBD). IBD refers to a collection of ailments in which the immune system targets and destroys parts of the bowel lining; examples include Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Furthermore, different symptoms may manifest themselves depending on which form it takes.
What causes IBS?
Although its exact cause remains unknown, many believe IBS to be related to an imbalance of digestive activity. While normal contractions of the bowel should push food through, sometimes these abnormal contractions become abnormal and cause pain – perhaps from overactive nerves or muscles in your bowel or increased anxiety/stress levels. Other possible sources include:
Bacteria are often associated with IBS symptoms worsening after an infection such as gastroenteritis. An outbreak may cause increased sensitivity in your digestive tract.
Food intolerances may include caffeinated drinks, alcohol consumption and foods high in saturated fat and/or fried products that commonly trigger reactions in individuals.
The digestive nerves can become oversensitive to any increased signals sent from them and this causes discomfort for many individuals.
What are the symptoms?
Individual symptoms may vary for people suffering from IBS; however, symptoms typically include abdominal discomfort, bloating and constipation/diarrhoea. When passing stool may help alleviate pain in your stomach. Modifications could occur in your bowel habits including changes in frequency, feeling like you need to go more frequently to the bathroom or not feeling completely empty after using the restroom. Other possible indicators could include fatigue nausea flatulence headache backache or bladder-related symptoms.
If you notice blood in your stool or an unexpected weight loss that you didn’t intend, or an unusual mass or lump within your stomach, please consult a medical provider immediately.
How is IBS diagnosed?
Unfortunately there are no tests for IBS; instead it is diagnosed based on symptoms. Your physician will likely make this determination after experiencing at least six months of the symptoms listed above and conducting blood and stool sample analysis to rule out other illnesses like IBD, coeliac disease or gastroenteritis that might also present similar symptoms.
Top tips for treating IBS
There are various approaches available to treat IBS, with various techniques having different degrees of effectiveness for each individual. While treatments might not entirely eliminate symptoms, they can still help manage and alleviate their severity while improving quality of living.
A balanced and healthy diet are key to managing IBS symptoms effectively. Avoid late night meals when possible and enjoy sitting down at a table to eat your meals properly and chew thoroughly for maximum relief of symptoms. In addition, drink plenty of fluids. As IBS can be caused by certain food items or beverages, keeping a food diary can help identify which are responsible for symptoms to allow you to identify which ones can trigger IBS attacks and either avoid or limit consumption of them. Reducing alcohol, coffee and tea intake is typically beneficial. Being conscious of how much fiber you are consuming may also prove useful; increasing fiber intake if suffering from constipation could relieve its symptoms; in contrast, when diarrhoea strikes it may be best to decrease consumption of fibers.
Exercising regularly may help relieve symptoms associated with IBS. According to NHS guidelines, at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity – enough to increase both heart rate and respiration rates – per week should help provide relief.
Stress and anxiety may play a part in IBS symptoms, so yoga, meditation and regular physical activity may all be beneficial in helping reduce your levels. If this stress becomes overwhelming for you, consider consulting your physician about counseling or cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
As previously discussed, medicines can also help to alleviate symptoms of IBS. Your doctor will typically prescribe them for short durations; their effectiveness will increase with lifestyle modifications:
Laxatives can help relieve constipation. Bulking laxatives are frequently employed to soften stool and make it easier to pass.
Antidiarrhoeal medications like Loperamide may help slow muscle contractions in your bowel and decrease diarrheal episodes.
Peppermint oil could help ease digestive muscles.
Antidepressants taken in low doses can block too many signals being sent out from nerves that supply your bowel. Although they can be effective, antidepressants should not be considered the first line of defense as their side effects could potentially worsen symptoms further.
Probiotics may help decrease flatulence and bloating by creating the conditions necessary for digestive balance.
Will my IBS get better?
While IBS can be a chronic condition that persists throughout life, that doesn’t necessarily mean symptoms will always present themselves throughout the day or week. You could go for long stretches without noticeably experiencing them at all if following our suggested treatment plans for this issue can help to keep symptoms at bay and decrease their frequency.