Chances are that if you don’t yourself have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, you know someone who does.
As many as 45 million Americans, and maybe more, suffer from the condition, a factor that takes on special significance this month, which is IBS Awareness month.
Cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea can all be symptoms of IBS, and there’s no real cure for it. No one really knows the cause of IBS. In IBS, the bowel either moves too fast or too slow and people with IBS seem to have what is called “sensitive intestines.”
One thing that is clear is that IBS affects peoples’ lives. Sufferers can miss work or school, skip social activities and meals, and disrupt their daily activities. This is a serious illness and it needs to be treated by a doctor. The good news is that IBS is not related to cancer and is not life-threatening.
Here are some facts about IBS:
- It’s a long-term condition that occurs more often in women than men.
- The symptoms can change over time.
- Some sufferers experience long periods of time with no symptoms, but they may reappear after several months.
- Some 70 percent of IBS victims do not receive medical care.
- There is no cure, but doctors can help alleviate symptoms.
- It does not require surgery.
- Stress can be a factor with IBS also. Feeling tense, troubled or angry can stimulate colon spasms in people who already have IBS.
Experts say a change in diet can at least reduce IBS symptoms. Take note of what sets IBS off, and then limit your intake of those foods. Dairy products can sometimes be the culprit, for instance lactose intolerance is seen in up to 40% of IBS patients. So you could limit your milk consumption, and instead switch to yogurt to see if that helps.
If constipation is the problem, fiber could be the answer. Try eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables to see if the IBS symptoms ease. Avoid or limit the amount of gas-producing foods.
Another option is trying probiotics. Probiotics are “good” bacteria found naturally in the gut. Yogurt contains these bacteria naturally so look for yogurt with live, active cultures, but only if you can tolerate the lactose. You could also consider taking a probiotic pill, but talk to your doctor about which kind and how much. There are many combinations of bacteria, different dosages, and a variety of manufacturers.
And you know the old advice about water – drink plenty of it. That’s an especially good suggestion for IBS sufferers, particularly if diarrhea is an issue for you. On the other hand, carbonated drinks can cause gas. Other helpful tips include taking over-the-counter products to control diarrhea, but be careful not to overdo it.
Doctors also sometimes prescribe an antidepressant, if that seems to be one of your symptoms, or they may suggest counseling. Another suggestion if diarrhea is the symptom is to eat smaller meals, but more frequently. And finally, do what you can to relax. Start with physical activity. Walking and other exercises help with stress but also seems to ease the IBS symptoms themselves.
Other relaxation therapy might include behavioral therapy or even hypnosis. There is a clear relationship between mind and gut. The Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute recommends starting with deep breathing. Take a deep, slow breath through your nose, filling the air in your belly. Then exhale slowly and completely. Do this simple exercise twice a day, for 5 minutes each time. There are also new medications for IBS including Tegaserod.
The good news is that eating doesn’t cause IBS.
The bad news may be that your favorite foods may be on the list of things that can set your IBS off, but different things trigger different people so you will have to learn through trial and error.
Here’s a look at some foods that may worsen symptoms, especially if you eat too much of them:
- Fried food
- Coffee or soft drinks
- Meals that are just too big, or contain too much fat.
- Foods that cause gas including beans, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, raisins, onions and even bagels
Finally, if a person has any of the symptoms of IBS as discussed previously, or if a person with known IBS has unusual symptoms, a health care practitioner should be consulted. Go to a hospital emergency department if problems are severe and/or come on suddenly.
For more information, visit http://www.ibsrelief.org