Since April is IBS Awareness Month, here are a few facts about the condition:
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic disorder that affects the colon. People with IBS may experience constipation, diarrhea, or a combination of the two. They may also experience bloating, flatulence, cramping, abdominal pain and discomfort. Alarming symptoms like gastrointestinal bleeding, weight loss, fever, vomiting, and anemia are not signs of IBS. Symptoms may come and go over time. When it comes to IBS, abdominal pain is usually one of the most obvious signs. The exact cause of IBS is unclear. However, there are several theories that are still being explored. One theory is that a miscommunication happens between the brain and the bowels. Another is that it is related to infections. It’s possible there are multiple causes.
Who gets IBS?
Anyone can get IBS, but women are twice as likely to get it as men are. Most people are diagnosed by the age of 45.
In general, IBS symptoms can be managed with lifestyle changes. If you have IBS here are a few changes you can make to improve your condition:
Food: What you eat can have a huge effect on your symptoms. If you are suffering from IBS eat small meals throughout the day instead of focusing on three larger meals. Smaller meals are easier for your body to digest and less likely to trigger overwhelming episodes of diarrhea or cramps.
It is also important to know what foods trigger your symptoms, so keep a log of what you eat and how you feel afterward. If you typically experience constipation as part of your IBS, you will want to avoid refined carbohydrates such as chips and cookies, dairy, and certain fruits. If you typically experience diarrhea, coffee and other caffeinated beverages should usually be avoided, as well as high-fat foods and fried foods like French fries. Additionally, high-fiber foods like beans and certain fruits and vegetables can trigger diarrhea and should be eaten in moderation.
Stress: Stress is another trigger for IBS. Learning to manage your stress though exercise or counseling can help to reduce the trouble of living with IBS.
Stay Active: Staying active is one way to reduce stress. It’s also a way to keep your bowels healthy as movement stimulates contractions. Bad experiences can make some IBS sufferers want to avoid exercise, but the key is to be informed about what exercise is best and find a regimen that works for you. Some types of exercise that are a good fit for IBS sufferers include yoga, swimming and tai chi. Vigorous exercise, like running, can be hard on your bowels and leave you miles from a restroom. If you’re experiencing a flare-up of symptoms it may be best to avoid exercise until you are feeling better.
Lifestyle changes can help keep your symptoms at bay, but it is important you also keep in contact with your physician. They can help partner with you to help manage triggers of IBS. And if you have been experiencing diarrhea, constipation or abdominal pain for some time, make some time this month to see your doctor or gastroenterologist.
Center for Gastrointestinal Disorders, Inc.
BASS Medical Group-Gastroenterology Division