Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a common functional gut disorder that affects 10 to 15 percent of adults worldwide. Although it is not a life-threatening disease, IBS can impact a person’s quality of life and it can be an economic burden. Studies showed that irritable bowel syndrome is one of the leading causes of absenteeism from work. Additionally, IBS patients have increased spending on healthcare.
Since it is a chronic disorder, irritable bowel syndrome treatment is more on addressing the symptoms, and it can be a lifelong commitment. Read on to understand IBS more and to learn what you can do about it.
Understanding IBS: Symptoms and Causes
Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic gut disorder involving the small and large intestines. The exact cause of IBS remains unknown. However, some people may be more prone to it because of their genes or due to an injury or trauma in the past that affected certain body functions.
Experts refer to IBS as a brain-gut disorder because it mainly involves problems in gut functions regulated by the brain and not of structural problems in the gut. If you think you may have IBS, be sure to get a proper diagnosis instead of treating yourself, as many patients require an ulcerative colitis treatment, instead.
IBS is a recurring disorder, which means patients may suffer from flare-ups and remissions of symptoms. Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms include:
- Abdominal Pain: It is one of the major symptoms of IBS. IBS patients described the pain as cramps or a sharp, stabbing pain that worsens after eating and goes away or lessen when you empty your bowel.
- Bowel Movement Pattern Changes: Along with abdominal pain, you may suffer from changes of the pattern of your bowel movement, from constipation to diarrhea and vice versa. IBS can also be constipation-dominant or diarrhea-dominant, which means you are constipated or has a loose bowel movement most of the time.
- Strong Sudden Urges: This is often a source of embarrassment for IBS patients because the strong urge to defecate can happen anytime and anywhere.
- Bloating: Bloating may lead to abdominal distension. Some patients reported that their stomach distension progresses throughout the day while others notice a rapid swelling.
- Nausea: This symptom is common in IBS patients. According to one study, four out of 10 women and 3 out of 10 men who suffer from IBS experience nausea.
- Mucus in the Stool: The presence of a yellowish or white thick substance in your stool.
- Feeling of Incomplete Bowel Emptying: Most IBS patients often have to spend a longer time in the comfort room because of the feeling that they are not finished emptying their bowels yet.
IBS symptoms have flare-ups and remissions; therefore, they can go away for some time and come back again. Moreover, patients with a constipation dominant bowel movement pattern may shift to a combination of constipation-diarrhea or a diarrhea dominant pattern.
IBS patients often suffer from flare-ups of symptoms due to several different factors. For patients who are seeking a long-term irritable bowel syndrome treatment, natural remedies and staying away from triggers are the most effective techniques at this time. Common trigger factors include:
The link between food and IBS is not yet fully understood, but IBS patients often suffer from severe symptoms after eating certain types of foods. Common IBS trigger foods include:
- Foods Made from refined grains
- Fatty and processed foods
- High amounts of protein-rich foods
- Too much insoluble fiber
- Dairy products
- Caffeinated, alcoholic and carbonated beverages
Trigger foods vary from person to person. It also depends on the type of bowel movement pattern a patient has, whether a combination of constipation and diarrhea, constipation dominant or diarrhea dominant.
2. Other Health Conditions
Other illnesses in the gut, such as gastroenteritis and bacterial overgrowth, can trigger the onset of IBS symptoms.
Researchers suggest that hormones may play a role in IBS since women are twice more likely to suffer from it than men. Symptoms also tend to get worse during their monthly menstrual periods.
People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome often experience severe symptoms when under great stress, such as losing a job or adjusting to a new workplace. To be clear, increased stress may worsen symptoms, but it does not cause irritable bowel syndrome.
Addressing these factors may be necessary for treating irritable bowel syndrome.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Treatment: Managing the Symptoms
Since irritable bowel syndrome is a lifelong disorder, there is no exact cure for it. Its treatment mainly involves relieving the symptoms through lifestyle and diet changes, medications and helping you gain a better understanding of your condition.
Here are some IBS treatments you should know about:
1. What to Eat or What Not to Eat
Certain types of food you eat may worsen or trigger your symptoms, but they do not necessarily cause IBS. Experts say there are no differences in the digestion of food between an IBS patient and a non-patient; however, eating certain foods may cause the bowel to overreact, which triggers the onset of IBS symptoms.
An irritable bowel syndrome diet is not a “one size fits all.” It can vary from person to person depending on his or her trigger foods.
Determining your trigger foods can be a long elimination process, since you have to keep track which foods worsen your symptoms. Recall instances whereupon eating a certain food led to a flare-up, try eliminating this food from your diet and observe for any changes. Keep track of the details by writing it down in a food diary.
In general, doctors will advise IBS patients to adjust the amount of their dietary fiber intake. Dietary fiber has two classifications, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber absorbs water and turns into a gel-like substance. It helps make your stool bulky. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and will help in the passing of stools.
Examples of foods high in soluble fiber are:
Examples of foods high in insoluble fiber are:
- Whole Wheat
- Fruit Peels
- Brown Rice
If your IBS is diarrhea-dominant, you may need to increase your intake of soluble fiber to help add bulk to your stool. If your IBS is constipation-dominant, you may need to increase your intake of insoluble fiber to help regulate bowel movement and to help on the easy passing of stools.
Your doctor can help customize a diet depending on your condition and what foods trigger your symptoms.
2. Low FODMAP Diet
Another recommended diet for IBS patients is the Low FODMAP diet that can effectively help reduce bloating.
FODMAP is the acronym of fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These are carbohydrates your colon cannot easily process and absorb. Instead, they will ferment in your colon quickly. The fermentation process will release gasses causing bloating.
You can find FODMAP carbohydrates even in the healthiest of foods. If you are planning on a low FODMAP diet, discuss with your doctor first to ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs while reducing bloating. For a list of high and low FODMAP foods, you can check this.
3. Change Your Eating Habits
Along with a planned diet, you may need to change some of your eating habits as well. Here are some eating tips that can help improve symptoms.
- Eat on time and avoid skipping meals.
- When you eat, take your time and chew your food thoroughly and slowly.
- Drink enough amount of water, about eight glasses, every day.
- Limit your coffee intake and avoid carbonated beverages.
- Avoid processed foods because they contain resistant starch.
- Eat fruits but limit portions to three servings per day.
Eating the right foods is important in a healthy diet but mind your portions and eating time, too.
4. Regular Exercise
Switching to a healthy lifestyle is the first step in reducing IBS symptoms and exercise is an important part of it.
Exercising does not have a direct effect on IBS, but it can make you fit, and it will improve your sense of well-being, so you can deal with the emotional and physical challenges IBS brings.
Exercising is also a good way to relieve stress that can aggravate IBS symptoms. According to research, a 30-minute-a-day moderate exercise for five days in a week significantly reduces the symptoms in IBS patients with constipation.
Some of the exercises recommended for IBS patients include cardiovascular exercises, such as:
Mind and body exercises are helpful, too, like:
- Breathing exercises
- Some forms of martial arts
If you are planning to implement an exercise program, here are more tips to maximize its benefits:
- Establish an exact time to exercise and follow it. Choose a schedule that you can easily keep.
- Avoid exercising when you are tired or sleepy.
- Do not exercise one hour before and after eating a meal.
- Choose an exercise that you enjoy and one that suits your lifestyle.
Ask your doctor about the different exercises that best suits your current health condition.
5. Freeing Your Emotions: Breaking Away from Stress
Increased stress does not cause IBS, but it can trigger or worsen the symptoms. Stressors are everywhere, and you cannot always avoid them. Find ways to lessen stress at work and home and deal with stress effectively when you are confronted with a stressful situation.
Multi-tasking at home and work can cause great stress. Prioritize your activities and tasks. Do the most important things first one at a time, and avoid worrying too much about the not-so-important things left on your list.
If you are in a stressful situation, such as losing a job or faced with a big financial problem, reduce stress through different relaxation techniques like breathing techniques, yoga, swimming, and walking. If you are suffering from chronic stress, you may undergo counseling or behavioral therapy.
6. Probiotics for a Healthy Gut
Probiotics are live good bacteria and yeast that may help improve digestive health by restoring the balance of bacteria, good and bad, in your digestive tract. You can find probiotics in certain types of food and drinks, or you can take as oral supplements.
Some IBS patients find probiotics supplementation effective in reducing their symptoms. However, there is not enough scientific evidence to support their claim, and there is no exact guideline in the type and amount of probiotics to take to gain this benefit.
Yogurt is one of the home remedies for irritable bowel syndrome because it contains probiotics.
7. Irritable Bowel Syndrome Medications
Your doctor can also prescribe medications to help relieve IBS symptoms effectively. Some of the drugs that can help manage IBS symptoms include laxative agents.
These are drugs that can increase bowel function to help treat constipation. Laxatives are effective, but prolonged use may lead to dependency on the drug and over time may affect your normal bowel function.
A better long-term alternative to taking laxatives is adjusting your dietary fiber intake could be an anti-motility agent.
The following anti-motility drugs used to treat diarrhea symptom of IBS:
- Codeine phosphate
Loperamide is a popular choice for IBS patients. It works by slowing down muscle contractions of your digestive tract so food can pass slowly as it gains bulk.
These are drugs that help relieve abdominal cramps by relaxing the smooth muscles of the intestines. It can also help reduce bloating and gas as it decreases irregular contractions of the intestinal muscles. You need to take these drugs for about 40 minutes before eating.
Doctors may be selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs and tricyclic antidepressants or TCAs to treat abdominal pain or cramps brought by IBS.
Apart from their antidepressant effect, experts believe these drugs have a pain-relieving effect. They work by interrupting the pain signals sent between your digestive system and central nervous system. Doctors may prescribe them if antispasmodic medications do not relieve the pain.
Antidepressants may take the time to take effect, and they can have adverse effects. Tricyclic antidepressants may cause constipation, dry mouth, and drowsiness. SSRIs may cause constipation or diarrhea, blurred vision, and dizziness.
8. Irritable Bowel Syndrome Therapy
Stress and other psychological factors can aggravate IBS symptoms because they affect the production of stomach acids. They can also slow down or accelerate the mechanical activities of your digestive tract.
Seeking help from a professional can help you manage symptoms that won’t seem to improve after 12 months of drug treatment. Psychological interventions that can help manage to treat irritable bowel syndrome symptoms include:
- Relaxation therapy: It can help reduce stress and may improve your sense of well-being, so you feel more in control of your condition.
- Biofeedback. A technique aimed to train people to control body functions that involuntarily occur, such as muscle tension.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A form of psychotherapy that can help you change your attitude towards your situation.
- Dynamic Psychotherapy: A form of psychotherapy that can help you deal with major stress that is worsening your symptoms and stress caused by your condition.
- Hypnotherapy: The use of hypnosis to bring about subconscious change in your attitude towards your condition.
Your doctor may refer you to a professional psychotherapist if your symptoms do not improve after being treated with drugs for 12 months. The psychotherapist will be the one to determine which therapy is best for you.
9. Complementary IBS Treatments
Acupuncture and reflexology are alternative treatments for irritable bowel syndrome. Some patients claimed these methods worked for them; however, medical professionals do not advise the use of these methods because there is no study or research to prove they are effective in reducing the symptoms.
These are irritable bowel syndrome treatments that can help you and help you live without fear that anytime the symptoms may suddenly surface.
The unpredictability of when the symptoms will occur is one of the worries of many IBS patients. These IBS treatments can help you prevent and manage IBS flare-ups.