Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a common disorder of the gut. Why it occurs is not known, and the symptoms of the disorder tend to come and go.
These are very variable, and can include abdominal pain, bloating, and sometimes bouts of diarrhea or constipation, and sometimes alternating bouts of both.
There isn’t any cure, but the symptoms can often be treated and eased on their own.
IBS can cause pain and discomfort in various parts of the abdomen. This pain is generally transitory, coming and going.
It also varies in severity, from mild to more serious. This might be between different people with the condition, or it may vary in one person between different bouts of pain.
It can occur in different areas of the stomach and abdomen and the duration of a bout of pain can vary greatly. The pain will often ease when you pass stool or wind.
Besides pain, another symptom of the syndrome is bloating or swelling of your abdomen.
In fact, the syndrome is often like having an upset stomach for any variety of reasons. The other symptoms that sometimes occur include nausea, headache, belching, poor appetite, tiredness, backache, muscle pains, feeling quickly full after eating, heartburn, and bladder symptoms, indicative of an associated irritable bladder as well.
Some people have occasional mild symptoms. Others have unpleasant symptoms for long periods. Many people fall somewhere in between, with flare-ups of symptoms from time to time.
People with IBS generally fall into one of three categories. There are those with abdominal pain or discomfort, and the other symptoms are mainly bloating and constipation.
There are those with abdominal pain or discomfort, and the other symptoms are mainly urgency to get to the toilet, and diarrhea. Finally, there are those who alternate between constipation and diarrhea.
Note: passing blood is not a symptom of IBS. You should tell a doctor if you pass blood.
Unfortunately, there is no straight-forward test for IBS. Diagnosis is generally made from the appearance of typical symptoms.
Nonetheless, blood tests are generally available to rule out other possible issues, such as ulcers, colitis, celiac disease or infection.
IBS can sometimes appear to be other things, and these other things can also appear as IBS.
The tests that are generally done are the Full Blood Count to rule out anemia, which is commonly associated with intestinal problems.
A test for the Erythrocyte sedimentation rate or C-reactive protein may also be done. This test shows if there is inflammation in the body.
Inflammation doesn’t occur with IBS, so this will help determine whether you are experiencing irritable bowel or not.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, and so the blood test for that looks for antibodies in the blood stream.
In unusual cases, more complicated tests such as an endoscopy are sometimes needed. If other tests don’t answer the question and your symptoms are not usual, then a health professional will need to test further.
This is also true if the occurrence of IBS is later in life, over the age of 45, when other conditions need to be considered.
It used to be generally assumed that getting more fiber in your diet was the first, non-negotiable step for treatment of IBS.
However, the assumption about fiber in treating IBS has changed somewhat over the years.
It is still recommended to get more fiber, but it’s been recognized that the kind of fiber is important, and not just fiber in general.
Fiber, roughage and other bulking agents, are the part of the food which is not absorbed into the body.
Because it isn’t absorbed, it remains in your abdomen, helping to regulated digestion. There is a lot of fiber in fruit, vegetables, cereals, wholegrain bread, etc.
It used to be said that eating a high-fiber diet was good at easing IBS symptoms. Then various research studies showed that a high-fiber diet can, in some cases, make IBS worse.
Different studies actually found evidence that fiber both helped and exacerbated symptoms. Accordingly, the role of fiber can be confusing.
What seems to be clear is that it’s the type of fiber that is important. There are, in fact, two main types of fiber.
The first is soluble fiber, so called because it dissolves in water. The second is insoluble fiber, which doesn’t.
The most valuable fiber for IBS sufferers is soluble fiber. It is soluble fiber that has the ability to ease IBS symptoms. So, sufferers should increase their intake of soluble fiber.
This isn’t exceptionally difficult to do, since there are many available dietary sources of soluble fiber. These include oats, psyllium or ispaghula, nuts and seeds, some fruits, vegetables and pectins.
Insoluble fiber doesn’t help IBS, and may actually cause you to have more and more severe symptoms. Insoluble fiber is chiefly found in corn bran, wheat bran and some fruit and vegetables. In particular, avoid bran as a fiber supplement.
Further to fiber considerations, it will be important for sufferers to make sure they have a healthy diet.
This is no different than everyone, but especially important for IBS patients. For one thing, while IBS is only rarely due specifically to food sensitivities, diet does play a large role in the syndrome.
Have regular meals and take time to eat at a leisurely pace. This keeps your digestive tract on an even keel regularly.
You want to avoid either letting gas build up because of an empty stomach, or suddenly overloading the system with more food than it can handle.
Accordingly, try to avoid missing meals or leaving long gaps between eating.
Try to stay well hydrated. You should drink at least eight cups of fluid per day, and these should be water or other non-caffeinated drinks such as herbal teas.
Caffeine actually dehydrates you, even when you’re getting it from tea or coffee. Proper hydration helps to regulate your digestion.
Beyond its effect to dehydrate you, caffeine can also be a factor in IBS symptoms. Accordingly, restrict tea and coffee to three cups per day.
While IBS can be a major problem, it isn’t necessarily very hard to manage and treat. It will mostly involve managing your diet.
“Diseases and Conditions: Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” by Mayo clinic staff. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/basics/causes/con-20024578.
“Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/ibs.