Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS is one of the most common digestive tract disorders. As many as 15 % of adults suffer from this unpleasant condition that can significantly impair the quality of one's life. Although treatment can be rather difficult, it is important to remember that IBS is a benign condition that does not develop into a more serious disorder. There are many things you can do to ease your symptoms and manage your IBS!
Symptoms are not specific. Visit your doctor to rule out serious conditions that can have manifestations similar to IBS.
Cramp-like pain appears periodically, usually right after a meal and can be very intense. The pain typically subsides with bowel movement.
Altered bowel habits
Patients experience constipation (IBS-C, mostly in women), diarrhea (IBS-D, mostly in men) or constipation alternating with diarrhea (IBS-M).
Bloating and Gas
Can be aggravated with physical and mental exertion.
There are no specific tests to diagnose IBS. Your doctor may order a series of blood and stool tests, as well as a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. These tests are designed to rule out pathological and/or anatomical reasons for symptoms.
Because the exact cause of IBS is unknown, therapy is directed at managing symptoms.
Antispasmodics suppress muscle spasms in the colon and are used to relieve abdominal pain.
Antidiarrheal medications and laxatives are recommended to address changes in bowel habits.
Psychotherapy and antidepressants are advised in patients that experience worsening of symptoms with physical and emotional stress.
Acupuncture, homeopathy, and hypnosis are alternative methods that are sometimes recommended.
Keep a food diary
Recording how and what you eat as well as how you feel is an excellent way to identify foods and eating habits that aggravate your symptoms.
Keep a detailed food diary for 1-2 weeks, which should be enough time for your eating and behavioral patterns to emerge. Answer simple questions to better understand factors that might be contributing to your IBS symptoms.
Follow a traditional IBS diet
A number of patients experience significant improvement in symptoms by modifying their diet according to the following advice:
Have a regular meal pattern, with 3 moderately sized meals and 3 snacks
Eat slowly and mindfully, chewing food thoroughly
Peel fruits and vegetables (especially important in IBS-D)
Avoid foods that are known to cause gas and bloating: onions, cabbage, legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
Do not consume sugar-free or low-calorie foods (chewing gum, candy, chocolate, baked goods) that contain sugar alcohols as sweeteners (sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, maltitol…) (especially important for IBS-D)
Avoid processed, fried, and spicy foods
Minimize intake of sugar, alcohol, coffee, and soft drinks
Try a low FODMAP diet
The majority of people who suffer from IBS associate the onset of their gastrointestinal symptoms with the intake of a particular food. FODMAP (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono- Sacharrides and Polyols) are poorly absorbed carbohydrates found in variety of foods that can create problems associated with IBS such as bloating, gas and diarrhea. Diet low in FODMAP was found to be equally effective in improving symptoms as the traditional IBS diet.
Be physically active
Multiple IBS symptoms can be substantially improved with physical activity. Regular exercise increases gastrointestinal motility (especially important for IBS-C patients), relieves abdominal bloating and gas, and improves mental well-being.
Choose a workout routine that fits your lifestyle and preferences. Walking is the type of exercise that you can start doing right away, without having to invest in any equipment (except a pair of comfortable walking shoes) or gym membership. Aim for 30-minute brisk walks, 5 days a week. If you are currently inactive, build towards this goal gradually. Start with a 10-15 minute walk every other day and increase
the length or the frequency of walks on a weekly basis.
Yoga and tai chi are excellent exercise choices for IBS patients. Certain postures (especially in yoga) that focus on abdominal region might help alleviate bloating and abdominal pain. Additionally, both yoga and tai chi are mind-body techniques that are known to relieve stress and anxiety and improve the overall quality of life.
An excellent option for people who do not have a yoga studio nearby or who prefer exercising at home is Yoga Download.
Peppermint is an aromatic plant with a long history of medicinal use. Among the many medicinal applications peppermint oil has been investigated for, the strongest clinical evidence exists for its use in IBS. Peppermint oil relaxes the gastrointestinal smooth muscle and reduces spasms in the gastrointestinal tract. Patients who used peppermint oil reported relief in abdominal pain, reduced gas and bloating.
Dietary fiber is a diverse group of plant materials that cannot be broken down by human enzymes or absorbed in the small intestine. High-fiber diets have a multitude of health benefits. Fiber helps with weight loss, contributes to cardiovascular and gastrointestinal health, normalizes cholesterol and blood glucose. An increase in dietary fiber is often recommended for IBS-C patients. Despite the abundance of fiber in food, a majority of adults do not get enough fiber in their diet.
Probiotics and prebiotics
Gut bacteria have a variety of important physiological functions, from vitamin synthesis to breaking down of dietary fiber. The use of prebiotics (substances that help grow and maintain gut microorganisms) and probiotics (microorganisms with beneficial health effects or “good bacteria”) in IBS stems from the idea that improving the bacterial ecosystem in the gut could help alleviate IBS symptoms.
Last updated: August 15, 2016