A Pain in the Gut: Understanding IBS

Often misunderstood, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal condition that deserves more attention.

You’re plagued with sudden and unexplained stomach cramps. You feel anxious when you know you’ll be without a bathroom for an extended period of time, so you travel to work using the route that has the most public bathrooms. If this sounds like you, there’s a chance you’re dealing with IBS.

Plenty of mystery surrounding IBS remains, but one thing is certain: It’s a very real medical condition that affects approximately 15.3 million people in the United States. Research during the last 10 years suggests that IBS may be the result of intestines with a higher level of sensitivity—a condition that can lead to miscommunication between the brain and intestines.

Even though IBS does not permanently harm your body or lead to more dangerous diseases such as cancer, it can have a major impact on your comfort and quality of life. Fortunately, the condition can be treated as long as you recognize when you are experiencing the symptoms.

Unraveling the Mystery

The symptoms of IBS are not terribly unique. For example, the big four are:

• Abdominal pain or discomfort

• Bloating

• Constipation

• Diarrhea

While most of us experience these symptoms on occasion, the regular presence of some or all of these symptoms is a big indicator of IBS.

Minor cases of IBS can often be resolved with small changes in diet, over-the-counter medications and managing stress. However, for people with moderate to severe IBS, other options may need to be considered.

If your IBS symptoms aren’t going away and are impacting the quality of your life, be sure to see a doctor so that you can learn about all available treatment options.

Finding a Fix 

There currently is no cure for IBS, but there are ways to treat symptoms. While medication is always an option, many symptoms may be alleviated through two main factors.

Change in Diet

Dietary changes are easy and involve little to no risk. While not proven scientifically, the following dietary tweaks are recommended by the American College of Gastroenterology:

• Avoid gas-producing foods such as beans, onions and cabbage.

• Eat more slowly.

• Limit carbonated drinks, which can introduce gas into the intestines.

• Go easy on dairy products. Lactose can cause IBS flare-ups.

Stress Management

IBS isn’t caused by psychological disorders, but stress can aggravate and worsen IBS symptoms. Try these techniques to manage stress levels:

• Exercise regularly.

• Learn relaxation and breathing techniques.

• Adopt a hobby that you enjoy.

If none of these work for you, see a doctor to learn about other options.

Sources:

fda.gov, womenshealth.gov, nih.gov, aboutibs.org, gi.org

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