You’ve probably heard of IBS, but do you really know what it is? Some of the mystery and confusion around the condition comes from the fact that we don’t really know what causes it, and that symptoms can be so varied.
But it’s also common, which means that it’s important to understand IBS and learn the symptoms, so that you can point doctors in the right direction if you think you have the condition. And if you do have IBS, there is a lot of power that comes from knowing more about how to reduce its effect on your life.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects the large intestine, causing symptoms like bloating, cramps, diarrhea, constipation, gas, mucous in the stool, and abdominal pain. The symptoms are generally mild to moderate, but for some people they can be debilitating. It is commonly improved or managed through lifestyle choices like dietary changes and stress reduction.
Fortunately, IBS doesn’t cause changes in the bowel or increase colorectal cancer risk, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t affect your day-to-day life. For IBS Awareness Month, we’ve gathered this list of 11 things you need to know about IBS — keep these in mind and work with your healthcare professional, and you could be feeling better soon.
1. It’s Common: There are some estimates that irritable bowel syndrome affects as much as 20 per cent of the population. According to Canada.com, it’s second only to the common cold as the reason for lost work or school days.
2. The Symptoms Can Vary: Some people experience diarrhea with IBS while other experience constipation — but some alternate between the two. The differences in the symptoms that people experience can make IBS difficult to diagnose. Getting a diagnosis of IBS is often a process of eliminated other conditions or factors that could be causing the same symptoms.
3. It’s Painful: When you know that it doesn’t damage your colon, IBS may not sound serious, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t make you seriously uncomfortable. Some sufferers have to deal with stomach pain and uncomfortable gas and bloating.
4. It’s Different From Colitis And Crohn’s: IBS, colitis, and Crohn’s all affect the digestive system, but they are not one and the same. The latter two are forms of inflammatory bowel disease, and can lead to intestinal damage. And the symptoms of IBS can also be caused by other more serious problems, like an infection of colorectal cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. Bottom line: if you experience changes in your digestive system or bowel, see your doctor to find out what the problem is.
5. Avoid FODMAP: What is FODMAP? It’s an acronym of some of the key things to avoid if you have IBS, according to the National Post: Fermented Oglio- Di-, and Monosaccharides and Polyols. And what does that mean? It refers to the carbohydrates you need to cut out in order to have a healthier bowel. Some of the included foods are high fructose corn syrup, soft cheese, and sweeteners like sorbitol. Research has found that a diet that avoids FODMAP foods can reduce IBS symptoms.
6. Even Healthy Foods Can Be Triggers: For some people with IBS, certain fruits and vegetables can cause problems — especially those eaten raw. Cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts can be problematic because they are more likely to cause gas. Beans and lentils can have the same effect. Others have trouble when they eat milk or other dairy products. Try tracking your diet and IBS symptoms to get some insight into which foods are triggers for you.
7. Non-Food Factors Are Also Triggers: Stress can also impact IBS symptoms. If you think this is a factor for you, look into stress-reduction methods like meditation, counselling, and exercise.
8. It Can Come And Go: IBS is a chronic disease for most people who have it, but its symptoms are not necessarily always present. They can come and go over time, even without lifestyle changes. But making choices to help to limit your IBS symptoms is the best way to keep them at bay.
9. The Cause Is Unknown: The Mayo Clinic says that the cause of IBS hasn’t quite been pinned down. The walls of our intestines are lined with layers of muscle that contract in order to move food throughout them and out of our bodies. With IBS, those contractions may be stronger and longer lasting, which can lead to problems as food is forced through your body too quickly. In other cases, the contractions may not be strong or fast enough, which means food waste isn’t eliminated quickly enough. It’s also thought that people with IBS may have abnormal levels of serotonin, which is involved in both brain and digestive function. Another theory is that an incorrect balance of good bacteria in the gut could lead to IBS.
10. Probiotics Can Help: Some studies have found that symptoms of IBS can be reduced if the patient takes a probiotic supplement to up the presence of good bacteria in the digestive system. Align is a probiotic recommended for IBS sufferers, and it’s commonly found at major retailers.
11. It’s More Common In Women: Women are more likely to have IBS than men, according to the Mayo Clinic. Because of that stat, some researchers think that hormones play a role in the condition. Many women find that their symptoms of IBS are worse around their menstrual periods, so that is a key time to watch for your own symptoms and take steps to reduce them.