People are often uncomfortable talking about bowel movements and may avoid the topic entirely if they can help it. For those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), this can lead to suffering alone and undiagnosed, which is why IBS Awareness Month came to be. This April, learn what IBS is, how it affects people who have it and tips to reduce symptoms.
IBS is a medical disorder with stomach pain plus diarrhea and/or constipation. Bloating, gas and the sudden urgent need to go for a #2 can also be problems. Symptoms can happen often and can go on for months or even longer. They can also change over time and get worse without warning.
While some people find their IBS a bit annoying, other people have a lot of trouble with their symptoms. In one survey, about half of people with IBS said they had a bad quality of life in a typical month. Three out of four people with IBS felt their symptoms impacted them every day, with an average of 73 days each year. Many also missed school or work because of their chronic disorder, with an average of 13 days per year.
While there is no cure for IBS, there are ways to reduce symptoms. Figuring out personal food triggers and avoiding them can help. Tracking food and symptoms for 1-2 weeks can help figure out problem foods. Common triggers include large high fat meals, caffeine, alcohol, not getting enough fiber, and food intolerances. For example, some people can’t digest lactose in dairy. Trying a low FODMAP diet with a dietitian can also help identify problem foods while maintaining food variety for the long term.
At times, nutrients may be missing from the digestive system. Soluble fiber is found in oats, beans, apples and psyllium supplements, and can help treat IBS symptoms. Be sure to increase fiber slowly and to stay well hydrated. Probiotics may also be helpful, but not all probiotics have the right types of bacteria to help with IBS. For those able to eat lactose, one way to include probiotics is to have 1-3 servings of Activia yogurt per day.
Lastly, it is helpful to know that stress, anxiety and depression is common in people with IBS. These struggles can also make symptoms worse. Managing stress, using relaxation strategies and enjoying regular exercise can be important to control symptoms as well.
For people with IBS, avoiding food triggers, getting enough nutrients and caring for mental health can help with digestive concerns. Increasing public awareness can help people with IBS find better support and resources to better manage their symptoms. When challenged with IBS-like symptoms, talking with a healthcare provider can be a positive step toward better health and wellbeing.