What do approximately 25-45 million people in the United States have in common? Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.
What is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gut disorder that mainly targets the large intestine. When it strikes, it can cause problems that interfere with daily life, especially when it’s left untreated.
Is there a cure for IBS?
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for this condition. Instead, this life-long condition requires long-term treatment in order to properly manage it and keep it from negatively interfering with the sufferer’s life.
Before someone can receive treatment for IBS, though, they have to know they have this condition in the first place.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
Recognizing symptoms is a good first step to better understand this condition and get proper treatment for it. Perhaps the single-most classic sign of IBS is the following…
1. Abdominal Pain
Abdominal pain is an ache or pain felt above the pelvis yet below the ribs; it is one of the more typical signs of IBS.
What does IBS pain feel like?
The sensation can range from mild to severe, meaning it can feel either like a sharp pain or dull cramps. People feel this pain predominately around the lower abdomen, but some feel the pain around the entire abdomen at times.
How does IBS cause this pain?
The short answer
Pain and cramps may come about due to oversensitivity of the gut.
The long answer
IBS can trigger more gut contractions than are necessary during digestion and bowel movements. It happens because the brain and gut no longer work well together with healthy bacteria to control digestion, leading to muscles feeling more tension than they should.
As such, the gut goes through an excessive amount of contractions, leading to cramps and pain.
How can people alleviate this pain?
- Oftentimes, finishing a bowel movement can alleviate the pain.
- Prescription medication can help sufferers better manage their symptoms.
- At home, a heating pad can help with stomach cramps.
- Knowing triggers is perhaps the single-mot effective method for managing this pain. Stress, anxiety, acidic foods, coffee, and artificial sweeteners are common IBS triggers that can cause pain. Knowing these triggers mean they can be avoided to reduce the odds of a flare-up.
The next symptom of IBS is one that can both be felt and seen…
As if pain and cramps weren’t enough, many people feel bloated, the sensation of being uncomfortably full or stuffed with gas. Many also report that their abdomen feels tight to the touch.
How does IBS cause bloating?
IBS disrupts the signals between the brain and gut, which makes muscles contract more. Beyond causing pain, this disruption can also lead to the body producing excessive amounts of gas. And when there’s a buildup of gas, it’s not surprising that it can lead to sufferers feeling and looking bloated.
How can people alleviate bloating?
- Certain probiotics may help as they can manage any harmful bacteria in the gut that can contribute to gas.
- Over-the-counter medications may help, such as Beano.
- People may alter their diet to include less fatty foods and more fiber-rich foods. These kinds of diets may help manage bloating by lessening gas.
Closely related to bloating is the following oftentimes embarrassing symptom of IBS…
3. Excessive Gas
Everyone passes gas. By some estimates, most people pass gas about 20 times a day! People with IBS, however, may toot much more than what is considered normal.
How does IBS cause flatulence?
IBS messes with the body’s gut bacteria. When this process occurs, it can lead to these bacteria creating toxins, which build up as gas. After awhile, that gas has to go somewhere, so it often exits the body as flatulence.
Additionally, IBS can hinder how well food is absorbed. That means undigested food can reach the colon. Now, the colon can’t handle undigested food well, which often means lots of gas.
How can someone find gas relief?
Sometimes, gas can go away on its own. When connected to IBS, however, it can lead to a host of other symptoms like abdominal discomfort and bloating. In these cases, over-the-counter gas relief medication may help.
What are some gas-causing foods?
Of course, some people find relief simply by avoiding certain foods that can cause gas. Gas-causing foods include:
- Brussels sprouts
However, some gas-causing foods are quite high in fiber, which is crucial for having healthy bowel movements. So, it’s always important to take caution when eliminating certain foods from a diet.
After all, not getting enough fiber could mean the following symptom develops…
Diarrhea is a condition where bowel movements become irregular. With diarrhea, someone not only will pass stools that are much looser and more watery than normal, but they are also much more likely to use the bathroom than usual.
How does IBS cause diarrhea?
IBS can accelerate digestion by speeding up muscle contractions. This behavior can force waste through the body at a rapid pace, meaning someone has to use the restroom much more frequently.
This swift movement of waste also means that the body has little time to absorb water and nutrients from it. The result? Waste comes out much looser than normal thanks to having a higher concentration of water than normal stools.
Since muscle contractions are sped up, diarrhea oftentimes is accompanied by abdominal cramps.
How can you alleviate it?
- Some over-the-counter or prescription-based anti-diarrheal medication can be effective for some people to treat diarrhea.
- If medication isn’t recommended, reducing intake of insoluble fiber may help. Consider doing away with the likes of nuts, wheat bran, and some other vegetables like cauliflower.
- Instead, add soluble fiber foods that help slow down digestion. These foods include seeds and oatmeal.
Many people with IBS fight diarrhea while others face the opposite problem…
Diarrhea causes frequent, loose bowel movements. The opposite is true of constipation, which means less frequent bowel movements with harder stools.
What is considered constipation?
Everyone’s bodies work differently, so what counts as a regular bowel movement schedule for someone might not be true for another. That being said, most experts say that having less than 3 bowel movements a week counts as constipation.
How does IBS cause constipation?
Sometimes IBS can speed intestinal muscle contractions up, leading to waste moving through the body quickly. Other times, the condition can do the opposite, forcing waste to move through the body at a much slower pace. As a result, the bowels have enough time to absorb too much water. This process can then lead to hard, lumpy stools that are much more difficult to pass.
Many people strain to have a bowel movement.
How can people find constipation relief?
- Increase water intake
- Talk to a doctor about prescription medication
- Eat more fiber
What are some fiber-rich foods?
Soluble fiber foods are especially important as they help regulate digestion speed. Some common foods high in soluble fiber include:
- Non-starchy veggies like asparagus
When fruits have edible skins, consider eating them whole rather than peeling them. Why? Because there’s more fiber in the skins.
Of course, diarrhea and constipation aren’t the only ways IBS can affect stools…
6. Changes in Stool
Constipation and diarrhea are the two most common ways that IBS affects stool. However, sometimes it may also cause stool to look white, or that it is covered with clear or white mucus.
How does IBS cause this symptom?
Abrupt changes in the gut can mean noticeable mucus in the stool. IBS tends to cause such changes via constipation, diarrhea, and general disruption of good bacteria.
Okay, but what about mucus?
Mucus lines the intestines, protecting the body from residual food. Since the presence of mucus protects the body from any food residue, disrupting that process may lead to the body producing more mucus than it needs. The result? That excess mucus may find its way out of the body via a bowel movement.
What can someone do about this symptom?
One of the best ways to reduce the amount of noticeable mucus in stool? Increase fluid intake.
Dietary changes may also help, such as balancing carbohydrates, fats, and fiber. A better balance may lead to a healthier gut that produces just the right amount of mucus, so stool maintains a healthier appearance.
Feel a burning sensation?
All previous symptoms have dealt with the abdomen, particularly the lower abdomen. However, IBS can affect other parts of the body as well…
7. Acid Reflux
IBS may lead to symptoms not always seen in the stool or felt within the gut. Such is the case with acid reflux, otherwise known as GERD.
What is acid reflux?
Acid reflux is when the liquid content inside the stomach (acid) goes back up (refluxes) into the esophagus. It’s a condition all on its own, but one that many patients with IBS also experience from time to time.
What are the symptoms of acid reflux?
GERD can result in several discomforting sensations like heartburn, dry cough, and the unpleasant regurgitation of acid up into the mouth.
How does IBS cause it?
There isn’t a completely clear explanation as to why some people with IBS experience acid reflux.
However, some believe it’s because IBS can mess with the muscles of the intestinal tract. By doing so, it may interfere with the function of the muscles from the esophagus to the stomach as well, causing acid buildup.
How can someone find heartburn relief?
- If acid reflux is severe, a prescription medication can properly manage the condition.
- Dietary changes may also help.
- Don’t eat close to bed time.
Sometimes IBS won’t just cause stomach acid to attempt to exit the body through the mouth…
IBS with nausea may or may not come with vomiting. Either way, the sensation is unpleasant and can negatively impact quality of life when this symptom persists.
How does IBS cause nausea?
Nausea is most often a secondary symptom of IBS. In other words, other symptoms of IBS cause nausea, not IBS itself.
For example, acid reflux, diarrhea, cramping, and abdominal pain—all symptoms of IBS—can result in nausea. When this nausea is severe enough, vomiting may occur.
What are some nausea remedies?
Remedying nausea requires knowing what’s causing the nausea in the first place. For example:
- If acid reflux causes the issue, acid-suppressing medications may help.
- If cramping causes the issue, a heating pad may help.
Sometimes, nausea is a direct result of the following IBS symptom…
9. Sudden Food Intolerance
Is food intolerance the same thing as a food allergy?
Food intolerance is not the same condition as a food allergy. A food allergy is an issue with the immune system whereas a food intolerance results from problems with the digestive system itself.
How does IBS cause food intolerance?
IBS can affect how well someone breaks down food. This process increases the odds that the digestive system is far more sensitive to certain foods than it should be. As a result, the body can negatively react to that food, leading to other signs of IBS like nausea and abdominal pain.
How can someone manage food intolerance?
The best way to handle food intolerance? Identify triggers and avoid subsequently them. One way to identify triggers is to keep a food diary. Keep track of foods, drinks, and when negative reactions occur. After a while, a pattern should emerge.
After identifying triggers, it’s possible to avoid those foods and the resulting unpleasant side effects.
Closely related to food intolerance is the following IBS symptom…
10. Change in Appetite
With all the changes IBS causes, it’s no wonder appetite can take a hit, especially if nausea and food intolerances are present.
How does IBS cause this symptom?
Appetite changes are another secondary symptom of IBS, much like nausea is.
For example, feeling nauseous or experiencing acid reflux can naturally make someone less inclined to eat. Food intolerance, obviously, can deter someone from eating as well. Furthermore, bloating may leave someone feeling full even if they haven’t eaten in awhile.
How can someone manage this symptom?
- Eat smaller meals throughout the day.
- Treat the symptom causing appetite loss. For example, if nausea is causing the appetite loss, take anti-nausea medication or eat bland foods like crackers.
What’s most important for someone who thinks they have IBS to know?…
Take Charge of IBS Today
Irritable bowel syndrome is a complicated gut disorder that experts are still trying to understand. That being said, we do know many of the major warning signs that someone is experiencing IBS.
Don’t ignore the body’s warning signs.
Keep track of what your body is going through, so you can better recognize the symptoms and how to manage them effectively. Always consult with your doctor, however, before making any drastic diet or medication changes.