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Everything You Need To Know About Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) , also referred to as mucus colitis, nervous colon, and spastic colitis is a long-term chronic gastrointestinal disorder that can cause continuous discomfort. The condition affects between 6 to 18 percent of individuals from across the world. Women are the most affected and are likely to get this condition in their late teens to early 40s.

IBS is not a life-threatening disorder, and it doesn’t make you vulnerable to other colon conditions such as colon cancer, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease. IBS is more likely to affect individuals’ day to day lives, and they may feel less enthusiastic about daily activities. Some people have to completely alter their work setting: changing work hours, shifting to work from home, or not working at all, when the discomfort is more.

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Types of IBS

IBS can be of different types, including IBS-C, IBS-D, and IBS-M/IBS-A. The condition can also develop as a result of an intestinal infection or diverticulitis, as well. It is necessary to pay attention to your symptoms for your doctor to narrow down the exact condition. Determining the type of IBS at the right time can lead to better treatment measures.

IBS-C

IBS with constipation (IBS-C) is one of the most common types of IBS. You may have this condition if your abnormal bowel movement days consist of stools that are hard or lumpy.

This condition can cause abdominal pain, gas, and bloating.

IBS-D

This type of IBS is also known as IBS with diarrhea and causes the opposite issues with IBS-C. With IBS-D, more than a quarter of stools on your abnormal bower movement days are loose, while less than a quarter are hard and lumpy.

It causes abdominal pain and frequent urges to go. Patients can also feel excessive bloating.

IBS-M/IBS-A

People with mixed bowel habits have IBS-M, also referred to as alternating constipation and diarrhea (IBS-A).

In this condition, your stools on abnormal bowel movement days will both become watery and hard.

Post-Infectious IBS

This condition refers to symptoms that occur after a patient has had a gastrointestinal (GI) infection. Following the infection, he/she may still experience chronic inflammation along with intestinal permeability and abnormal gut flora.

Patients with this condition mostly experience diarrhea and vomiting.

Post-Diverticulitis IBS

If you’ve experienced diverticulitis, you may be at high risk of developing IBS.

This condition occurs when diverticula — the small pouches that line the lower part of your large intestine — gets inflamed or infected. It causes fever, nausea, abdominal pain, and constipation.

Post-diverticulitis IBS is one of the possible complications in this condition. This type of IBS occurs when diverticulitis has already been treated.

Symptoms of IBS

Main Symptoms

People with IBS may suffer from the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pains and cramping, usually in the lower part of the abdomen, that are likely to worsen after meals and improve after a bowel movement
  • A lot of gas or bloating of the abdomen
  • Harder or looser stools than usual
  • A sudden urge to go to the bathroom
  • An altering pattern of constipation and diarrhea
  • Passing of mucus from the rectal area
  • Food intolerance

Common and Other Symptoms

Individuals suffering from IBS will experience a mix of symptoms such as belly discomfort or pain and trouble with bowel activity (constipation or diarrhea). However, symptoms tend to change over some time. A flare-up may last for several days, weeks, or months at a time, and then either improve or resolve entirely.

Signs and symptoms may vary from individual to individual and at times may resemble symptoms of other disorders and conditions, including:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Persistent fatigues
  • A sudden, urgent need to urinate
  • Joint or muscle aches
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Dyspareunia
  • Halitosis

Psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression are also likely to occur to individuals, often due to the discomfort or embarrassment that arises because of IBS.

Causes of IBS

The exact cause of IBS is not known to doctors and health specialists. Several factors, including alteration in the gastrointestinal tract, food intolerances, abnormal nervous system signals, and hypersensitivity to pain, are believed to be the causes of irritable bowel syndrome.

Common Causes

Some of the common causes of IBS include:

  • Slowed movements of the colon, leading to painful cramping
  • Abnormal levels of serotonin in the colon, causing irregular motility and bowel movements
  • Mild celiac disease that leads to the development of IBS symptoms

Main Causes and Triggers

Some of the main symptoms that are found to cause IBS are mentioned below:

  • Increased sensitivity to pain from gas or a full bowel
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Environmental factors, such as stress
  • Food intolerances, likely because of poor absorption of acids or sugars in food
  • Abnormal nervous system signals or abnormal levels of reproductive hormones
  • Gastroenteritis (a viral stomach and gut infection caused by the presence of harmful bacteria)
  • Abnormal movements of the small intestines or colon
  • A person’s psychological and emotional state can lead to the development of IBS. Depression or anxiety may occur in many people with IBS, although these disorders are not directly linked to IBS.
  • Genetics is believed to be a likely cause of IBS but has not been scientifically proven.
Treatment Types

Non Surgical Treatment (Dietary and Lifestyle Changes)

Dietary changes are the primary treatments that should be considered in order to treat IBS. Several types of foods often trigger the characteristic signs and symptoms, which is given in the later section in detail.

If dietary and lifestyle changes do not adequately provide relief from the symptoms, the patient is recommended to seek urgent medical attention. Some of the lifestyle changes are given below:

  • Take probiotics
  • Quit the intake of alcohol and smoking
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals
  • Avoid caffeine and beverages
  • Exercise regularly
  • Biofeedback
  • Mindfulness training
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or psychotherapy
  • Gut-directed hypnosis
  • Get proper sleep
  • Apply Pain management techniques
  • Stress management and relaxation techniques
  • Walk daily and practice yoga
  • Try ginger or peppermint, promoting healthy digestion
  • Avoid laxatives
Surgical

Colon and rectal surgeons are professionals in the surgical and non-surgical treatment of IBS and other conditions related to the colon, anus, and rectum. They are specialized in the treatment of both benign and non-benign diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus, and perform screening examinations before moving ahead with surgery. However, in most cases of IBS, a surgery is not required and can be treated through non-surgical measures. In some severe cases, surgery may be required.

Ayurvedic Treatments

Ayurvedic medicines available in the market help provide relief from the symptoms of IBS. However, a patient has to take the medicines for a long time, if the symptoms are severe.

Given below are some of the Ayurvedic steps to help manage IBS symptoms:

  1. Resetting Your Digestive System
  2. Firstly, your ayurvedic practitioner may ask you to eat a diet free of spice and fatty foods to help reset your digestive system. The diet may consist of light soups, warm foods, and rice. You may also be asked to fat for a brief period. Drinking buttermilk helps reduce symptoms of IBS.

  3. Practice Yoga
  4. Practicing yoga can increase strength and flexibility, along with eliminating stress and physical symptoms of IBS. Certain yoga positions or postures may help more in eliminating the symptoms of IBS, including Corpse position and Sun salutations.

  5. Try Taking Herbal Tonics
  6. Herbal tonics and supplements are a crucial part of ayurvedic treatments. An ayurvedic practitioner may help you select the right ones to treat the particular imbalance or dosha you’re aiming to treat.

  7. Try Meditation, Massage, and Aromatherapy to Better Manage Stress
  8. According to studies, stress plays an important role in people who develop IBS. In Ayurveda, stress is caused by an imbalance in doshas. Anti-stress measures such as massage, meditation, and aromatherapy may help lower stress, thereby helping reduce IBS symptoms.

Dos and Don’ts for IBS Patients

Dos

The treatment of IBS focuses on treating symptoms so that you can live as normally as possible. Mild signs and symptoms can often be reduced by managing stress and by making dietary and lifestyle changes. You may be asked to:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat high-fiber foods
  • Exercise regularly
  • Drink enough water and fluids
  • Avoid foods that trigger your symptoms

The following steps may help alleviate or relieve symptoms:

  • Regular exercises
  • Meditation
  • Stress counseling or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Yoga or Tai Chi

Don’ts

  • Do not skip or delay meals
  • Do not eat too quickly
  • Do not consume alcohol or frizzy drinks
  • Do not consume lots of fatty, spicy, or processed foods
  • Do not drink more than 3 cups of tea or coffee per day
  • Do not eat over 3 portions of fresh fruit every day (a portion is 80g)
What to Eat and What to Avoid

Dietary factors play a significant role in IBS. Symptoms are likely to worsen after consumption of dairy products, chocolates, or alcohol, thereby causing either constipation or diarrhea. Besides, some fruits and vegetables can cause bloating of the stomach and pains. It is not yet clear whether a food allergy or intolerance triggers IBS.

What to Eat

  • Eat all cooked vegetables, other than cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli — which might cause bloating of the stomach — however, if they are your favorite foods and do not trigger the symptoms, then go for them too.
  • Eat fruits without the skins.
  • Including a diet rich in fibre cab help patients with IBS. Also, increase your water intake up to 2 litres per day.
  • Bran fibre may worsen some symptoms of IBS, so ensure you do not get any negative side effects after consumption.
  • Look for foods having low-fat content.
  • Enjoy all meat, chicken, and fish.
  • Dairy products can trigger symptoms for people having lactose intolerance, so make sure that you do not experience any problem after their consumption. In case you have lactose intolerance along with IBS, you should try switching to lactose-free products or a Lactaid® pill.
  • Cook meals by grilling, steaming, boiling, or baking with little to no oil. Switch to a cooking spray in place of oil.

What to Avoid

Mentioned below are some of the most common dietary triggers of abdominal bloating or cramping foods:

  • Onions
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Prunes
  • Beans
  • Raisins
  • Celery
  • Bananas
  • Pretzels
  • Apricots
  • Bagels

Other foods that can contribute to IBS development are:

  • Dairy products
  • Candies and chocolates
  • Caffeine-based products, possibly due to caffeine, sugar or sorbitol intolerance
  • Sugar-free gum
Who are at Risk of Developing IBS?

IBS ca affect people of all ages, however, it is more likely to affect people in their teens through their 40s. This condition also seems to be hereditary. Studies suggest that your genes plan an important role in the development of IBS.

Nearly twice as many women as men have IBS. The reasons are not yet clear, but some researchers think the changing hormones in the menstrual cycle may be a reason behind it.

On the other hand, some people with IBS seem to experience stress, have a mental illness, or have experienced a traumatic event in their lives, including sexual abuse or domestic violence. It is not sure what comes first — the stress or the IBS. However, there are studies that suggest that stress management and behavioral therapy can help provide relief from the symptoms in some people.

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FAQs for IBS

IBS is the most common functional GI disorder that affects men, women, teens, and children.

The impact of IBS varies from individual to individual. For some, IBS leads to symptoms that are manageable by some dietary and lifestyle changes, and do not usually interfere with daily activities. For others, it may severely interfere with their quality of life.

IBS is a chronic disorder and symptoms are often unpredictable. However, with proper treatment, the symptoms can be better managed.

An experienced doctor can diagnose IBS by carefully examining your symptoms and by performing physical tests and diagnostic procedures that are often limited to a few basic tests.

The occurrence of IBS remains fairly stable. With months, some people with IBS no longer experience symptoms, while new people develop IBS. According to studies, about 10% of patients with IBS get better each year.

There are no long-term implications associated with IBS. Once the condition has been diagnosed with proper tests, patients have no greater need of preventive checkups compared to others.

Bowel movements are influenced by changes in the level of female hormones. Symptoms can aggravate for some people at certain times of the cycle, particularly during the menstrual periods.

Women both with and without IBS report a high occurrence of GI symptoms, including stomach ache and bloating, just before the onset of periods and during it. These symptoms appear to be more intense in women with IBS. However, it is important to determine if the patient has a gynaecological problem or a GI problem. Before narrowing down to a diagnosis, it is crucial to explore both possibilities.

Lactose intolerance can cause symptoms just like IBS symptoms. Both conditions occur at the same time, but they are different conditions that are treated separately.

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