For many people, the bathroom is a quick stop on their way to doing something else. But for some people, the bathroom can feel like a jail cell of discomfort and frustration. Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, can make using the bathroom complicated and uncomfortable.
IBS affects lots of people, but only half of the people with IBS get diagnosed and treated. Embarrassment can make us not want to talk about our symptoms. Your provider will never judge you, and most likely they are already treating other patients with the same issues. Your provider is your teammate and your best resource for treating IBS.
Do I Have IBS?
Symptoms of IBS include:
- Abdominal pain
- Stomach cramps
- Excessive gas
There are three types of IBS, so your symptoms may be different depending on which type you have.
IBS-C: This is irritable bowel syndrome with constipation. Your poop is likely hard and lumpy.
IBS-D: This is irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea. Your poop is likely loose and watery.
IBS-M: This is irritable bowel syndrome with a combination of hard and lumpy bowel movements and loose and watery bowel movements on the same day.
You should talk to your provider if these symptoms begin to affect your day-to-day routine, or if you develop any of the following:
- Weight loss
- Diarrhea at night
- Anemia caused by low iron
- Unexplained vomiting
- Trouble swallowing
- Pain that doesn’t go away after passing gas or having a bowel movement
Your provider will talk to you about your symptoms and do a physical exam. Most of the time this is all that is needed to diagnose IBS. Depending on your medical history, your provider may want to run some extra tests to rule out other possible conditions.
What Causes IBS?
We aren’t sure exactly what causes IBS. There are several factors that are believed to contribute to developing IBS. Your intestines are lined with muscles, which help move food through your digestive system. If those muscles contract too much, it can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea. If they don’t contract enough or are weak, it can cause food to move too slowly and lead to hard, dry stool.
Your nervous system, which sends signals from your brain to your body, can also contribute to IBS. If the nerves in your digestive system are abnormal, they may cause you to feel more discomfort as food is processed. If the signals between your brain and body don’t work right it can cause your body to overreact, leading to pain and diarrhea or constipation.
In some cases, IBS can develop after a case of diarrhea that is caused by a virus or bacteria. It may also be associated with having too many bacteria in your body. There are good bacteria in your intestines that serves a purpose, but too many of them can cause issues.
In addition to those possible causes of IBS, there are also things that can make your IBS worse, or that can trigger your symptoms. Food is a big player, but the exact role of food allergies isn’t completely understood. Having a food allergy rarely causes IBS, but many people do say that eating certain foods makes their IBS worse.
Stress can also play a role in IBS. People with IBS usually have symptoms more often when they are going through a stressful time. Stress can also make your IBS symptoms worse or more intense.
Treatment for IBS
You have lots of options when it comes to treating your IBS. Some people use medications or supplements, but the first step is usually to work on your diet. The first steps to take include:
- Avoid foods that trigger your symptoms
- Eat high-fiber foods (Apples, whole grains, popcorn, broccoli, etc.)
- Drink lots of water
- Be more active
- Get into good sleep habits
One of the great things about these small changes is that not only will they improve your IBS, but they will benefit your overall health. After you make some of these changes your IBS should get better, and you should feel better in other ways too.
Your provider will also recommend removing certain types of food from your diet, especially if they are trigger foods for you. High gas items like pop, alcoholic drinks, and other gas-inducing foods should be cut out if bloating and gas are some of your symptoms.
Many people with IBS show a lot of improvement when they remove gluten from their diet. This can be a tough one, but it is worth trying out. If going gluten-free isn’t an option for you, test out some swaps for things like pasta and bread. If less gluten helps you feel better, it’s worth the effort.
Many people are sensitive to a group of carbs known as FODMAPS, which includes fructose and lactose. Limiting your intake of FODMAPS may also reduce the frequency and intensity of your symptoms.
At EPIC we don’t expect you to do this alone. We know it takes time, and we are here to support you! We have Registered Dieticians who can help you develop a new diet and suggest new foods for you to try. They will work directly with you and your provider to keep track of your progress.
Our Exercise Physiologists can also help you get more active. They work with you, your provider, and your dietician to create a plan designed specifically for you. They then walk you through all your exercises with you and work with you until you feel comfortable enough to continue on your own.
At EPIC, we have a team of people ready to work with you to get you feeling better. Don’t suffer from IBS in silence. Talk to an EPIC provider today and start feeling amazing!