If you ever experience tummy troubles, you are definitely not alone. April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month, and we want to share some information on this disorder that is one of the most common disorders diagnosed by physicians.

If you have been struggling with digestive troubles, it may be time to get in touch with a doctor to see if IBS is something you may be experiencing.

IBS is actually quite prevalent; it is estimated to affect about 11% of the global population and about 25-45 million Americans.  It is also estimated to be the cause of approximately 12% of primary care visits.

IBS is a group of symptoms which usually occur together, which affect your large intestine, also known as the colon.

There are four common subtypes:

  • IBS-C: Constipation predominant
  • IBS-D: Diarrhea predominant
  • IBS-M: Alternating between constipation and diarrhea
  • IBS-U: Unspecified, does not reflect the above categories

Another sub-type is post-infectious IBS, which can occur sometimes after the onset of an infection. This subtype is estimated to be the cause of 6-17% of cases.

What are the signs and symptoms of IBS?

The following symptoms are commonly associated with irritable bowel syndrome:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Excess gas
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Mucus in the stool

How is IBS diagnosed?

If you believe you may be suffering from IBS, your doctor may suggest a series of steps to determine your diagnosis. Some of these steps include:

  • A stool sample, often to rule out infection
  • Adopting a specific diet or eliminating specific food groups for a period of time that may be triggers
  • Having a blood test done, often to rule out celiac disease
  • Getting tested for food allergies
  • A colonoscopy

A lot of people with IBS will experience quite a bit of fluctuation in their symptoms, and see times when their symptoms are significantly worse, and times when their symptoms improve.

What are the risk factors for IBS?

Certain people are more at risk for developing IBS than others. Some of the most prominent risk factors are:

  • Gender: Women are approximately 2 times as likely to develop IBS than men. It’s not particularly clear why, but some researchers believe it may have something to do with hormones.
  • Food sensitivities: being intolerant or allergic to certain foods can cause symptoms of IBS.
  • Stress and anxiety: IBS is highly correlated with symptoms of anxiety and stress. It’s not clear which comes first, but stress management has been shown to relieve symptoms in some people.
  • Family history: IBS appears to run in families, suggesting genes may play a role.  

doctor and patient

How can you get relief from your IBS symptoms?  

There are a lot of different factors that can trigger or exacerbate symptoms. These triggers can be highly variable between people. For many, the following things can provide some relief from symptoms:

Managing stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety are highly correlated with IBS. While it is not clear exactly which is the cause of the other, managing stress can help to control some of your symptoms. Behavioral therapy or other stress management techniques can help ease symptoms.

Tracking your triggers

Many symptoms can be triggered by specific foods, such as spicy and fatty foods. It may be helpful to track the food you eat and the way you feel in a food diary, so you can see what types of foods and ingredients may cause an onset of symptoms.

Cutting back on caffeine

Cutting back on caffeine, which can stimulate an increased frequency of bowel movements, can be beneficial if you experience frequent loose stools.

Exercising more

If you suffer from constipation, moving can help get things ~ moving. ~ Either way, exercise helps regulate digestion and decrease stress and anxiety, which can exacerbate symptoms.

Taking probiotics

Some studies show that taking probiotic supplements can help with certain symptoms i.e. bloating, gas, and bowel movement irregularity.

It is also a common treatment option to adopt a specific diet or to cut out specific foods that are common triggers. Some of these common trigger foods are gluten and dairy. Some short-chain carbohydrates, known as FODMAPs, can also be triggers for some people. Depending on your symptoms, a doctor may advise a specific diet or an elimination diet, where you cut out specific possible trigger foods for a period of time. It’s important to consult with a doctor before trying a new diet or cutting any food groups out of your diet.

If you think that you may be suffering from IBS, connect with a HealthTap doctor today.

Author: Maggie Harriman

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