Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, is defined by the National Institutes of Health as a group of symptoms that occur together without any damage or disease in your intestinal tract. It can be an uncomfortable condition that can affect your daily life. Statistics show that about 1 in 5 adults has IBS, with most of those people being women, those under the age of 50 years, and those with a family history of the condition. However, IBS is a condition that can be treated. By learning more about the condition and lifestyle changes that can help control symptoms, you can live a healthier, more carefree life with IBS.
If you suspect that you may have IBS, it is important first to visit your healthcare provider and get specific tests and labs done first. This is because some of the symptoms of IBS may also be symptoms of more serious conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or colitis. Examples of testing that may be done includes:
- A colonoscopy to check for any inflamed tissue, growths such as polyps, or ulcers.
- Lab testing for celiac disease markers since those with IBS-D (with diarrhea) or IBS-M (bouts of diarrhea and constipation) may be prone to being gluten intolerant.
- Lab testing for iron levels since many people with IBS have related malabsorption issues.
- Lactose breath test to check for lactose intolerance.
- Food allergy testing to check that involves IgG, IgA, and IgE antibody testing to see if there are any foods that are strong triggers to your IBS symptoms.
- Anorectal manometry to check the strength of your rectal and anal muscles, sine weak musculature in these areas may contribute to changes in bowel movements and may make bowel movements difficult.
Physical symptoms of IBS may include:
- Abdominal cramps and/or pain
- A combination of diarrhea and constipation
There is no one known cause of IBS, so there is not a one-size-fits-all treatment for the condition. However, there are various treatments you can try that have been successful for some in lessening the pain and discomfort associated with the condition.
Changes in diet: Recommended changes in diet will vary from individual to individual. However, there are certain types of foods that have been found to be common triggers in IBS patients. These “problem” foods include:
- milk and milk products such as cheese, cream-based soups, and ice cream
- caffeinated drinks like coffee
- carbonated drinks like cola, especially those that contain sugar alcohols like sorbitol or xylitol as well as those that are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup
- some fruits or vegetables; specifically, those that produce a lot of gas in the body such as apples, cauliflower, and beans
The low FODMAP diet plan has been found to help those with IBS to control symptoms and to figure out which foods are triggers for them. Although this diet is recommended to be started with the supervision of a healthcare provider, you can read more about how to start the low FODMAP diet at home on the Casa de Sante website.
- Probiotics: Your doctor may recommend starting on a probiotic to help your body replenish “good” gut bacteria that may help reduce your symptoms.
- Prescribed medications: Some doctors may recommend prescribed medications that could help relieve some of your IBS symptoms. However, these are only provided with a doctor’s diagnosis and may not work for everyone. Therefore, if medicines do not work for you, do not give up on gaining control over your IBS symptoms.
- Stress relief: Some IBS symptoms in some people may be triggered by stress. Therefore, it may be a good idea to engage in walking, yoga, or meditation to help you relax. Furthermore, you could talk with a counselor about the stress you are experiencing to see if they can provide techniques to better help you cope with your stress.
- Natural Teas or Essential Oil Supplements: You may find that a nice, hot cup of tea at the beginning and end of your day helps lower your mental and gastrointestinal stress. Teas such as Heather’s Tummy Tea contains 100% organic peppermint oil that may help reduce IBS symptoms. If tea is not your thing, then perhaps try an essential oil supplement each day such as these peppermint oil capsules.
Written by Staci Gulbin, MS, RD a Board-certified dietitian.