What It's Really Like To Have IBS

When it comes to tummy troubles, painful cramping, bloating, diarrhea and constipation can be some of the most uncomfortable to deal with. And for the 35 million Americans with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, these symptoms can become all too frequent.

Unfortunately, with a wide range of symptoms and causes, IBS can difficult to diagnose and even tougher to treat. With many common misconceptions about what it means to have IBS, let’s take a closer look at what IBS actually is, what the common causes may be and simple steps for relief.

So what exactly is IBS?

When it’s running smoothly, the digestive tract works to process food by moving it from the stomach, though the intestinal tract and finally to the rectum. However, when these contractions are stronger or lasts longer than usual, this can cause gas, bloating and diarrhea. On the other hand, if the contractions are weaker or slower, this can lead to constipation or abnormally hard stools. Despite these unpleasant symptoms, the good news is that IBS doesn’t cause any damage to your digestive tract.

What triggers IBS?

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the triggers of IBS. Whether it’s certain foods, stress, hormones or other conditions, there are a number of substances and circumstances that can cause IBS to flare up. Additionally, symptoms can be sporadic or chronic, depending on the trigger and the severity.

Food. For many individuals with IBS, their large intestine and/or colon may be especially sensitive to certain foods. This is often the result of food allergies or food intolerances. Some of the most common trigger foods include: chocolate, spices, high-fat foods, fruits, beans, cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, milk and certain beverages (carbonated and alcoholic primarily).

Stress. The impact of stress isn’t only mental, it’s also physical. For many individuals with IBS, the severity and frequency of symptoms often increases during high-stress times. While stress alone won’t cause IBS symptoms, it can intensify them.

Hormones. Surprisingly, women are twice as likely to have IBS, which may indicate that hormones play a role.

Other conditions. In addition to food allergies and food intolerances, there are a number of other conditions that can cause IBS flare-ups.  

Simple Steps for Relief

Dietary Changes:  Dietary changes have long been recommended as a good first step in treating IBS. Remember, change takes time; to really see the impact of diet changes, you have to stay patient. Depending on your unique symptoms, you may want to incorporate one or more of these changes:

Incorporating more fiber can be helpful, especially if you have constipation. However, don’t go pedal to the metal with fiber, if you take too much too fast, this can make your symptoms worse. Try gradually incorporating more fiber-rich foods, including oats, whole grain, barley, fruits and vegetables.

Start to take notice of the foods you eat. Avoid foods that can cause gas, such as beans, broccoli and foods with fructose (natural sugar in artichokes, onions, pears, wheat…etc.). Also note the foods that you find trigger or worsen symptoms, these often include milk, coffee and sugar substitutes.

You may want to try going gluten free. The symptoms of Celiac disease and IBS can be tough to distinguish, but it is worth noting that individuals with IBS can be more likely to have celiac disease, especially if they also have thyroid problems or type 1 diabetes.

Medicine: A variety of drugs are available to treat the symptoms of IBS. Based on your specific condition, your doctor may give you one that prevents diarrhea, constipation or stomach pain. However, you’ll want to avoid self-treating and taking medications without your doctor’s input as some of them can worsen IBS symptoms.

Mental Health Therapy: Because stress, anxiety and depression can trigger IBS, as well as cause more severe symptoms, utilizing stress-relief techniques is an important first step. Additionally, your doctor may suggest therapies that can boost mental health. These may include counseling, talk therapy, hypnosis and stress management. 

Finding the Right Treatment Option for You: When it comes to something as complex as your digestive system, it’s best to turn to the experts for help. Coping with chronic digestive issues, can impact your overall health and your day-to-day quality of life. With the opening of GMC’s new Primary Care & Specialty Center-Suwanee, you and your family will have convenient access to experienced gastroenterologists, primary care and specialty services, the latest in treatment options and an extensive network of resources, all in a spa-like environment.


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