Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is a complex condition that differs for those suffering with it. If you are struggling with IBS, this post will explain common symptoms, important considerations with IBS, and some ways to help get the condition under control.
As mentioned, IBS is complicated and the symptoms can widely vary from person to person. However, the common thread amongst cases is gastrointestinal discomfort and feeling relieved after the onset of bowel movement that is irregular in appearance and/or frequency. The most common symptoms include:
Abdominal pain or discomfort
Rapid onset of urge to move bowels
Aside from nutrition and lifestyle factors, certain medications have been used successfully in the treatment of IBS symptoms. For example, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) have been shown to be helpful by supporting normal muscle contractions in the gut, or by lowering sensitivity to GI discomfort. As far as supplements, psyllium husk fiber such as Metamucil may help, in addition to probiotics. Probiotics are healthy gut bacteria that can be consumed from fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha. Some studies have shown improvement in IBS symptoms after following a supplement regimen. Discuss medications and supplements with your physician and registered dietitian to find what’s right for you.
Healthy habits, such as regular activity and stress management, are not just important for overall health and wellness, but may improve your IBS too. Studies have shown a reduction in IBS symptoms in women that practiced mindfulness meditation, and other studies have shown similar results from talk therapy as well. We are learning more and more in recent years on how the gut and the brain communicate, so supporting your mental health is another avenue of treatment that can help manage IBS.
IBS is individualized when it comes to finding strategies that manage symptoms. An often-discussed approach is the Low-FODMAP diet. This approach removes fermentable carbohydrates little by little from the diet temporarily to help you learn which foods trigger symptoms. As mentioned often throughout this post, if you aren’t sure where to begin with FODMAPs or want to understand them more talk to your dietitian about their role in digestion.
Regardless of whether trying a low FODMAP approach or not, a very important first step in learning about your IBS is identifying foods that trigger your symptoms. Try keeping a food diary when you experience a flare up, noting what you ate last, the ingredients at the meal, the portion, and whether you had any symptoms. This journaling will also be very helpful to inform your dietitian on patterns that are occurring.
Some other strategies your dietitian may work on with you to ease symptoms include:
Eat meals at regular intervals and opt for smaller meals to support gentler digestion.
Gradually increase fluid intake to at least half your body weight in ounces- this can help minimize constipation.
Alcohol and caffeine stimulate the vagus nerve and can increase the chance of having diarrhea- limit as necessary.
Practice caution around foods known to produce a higher amount of gas, such as broccoli, cabbage and beans. Learn how your body responds to various portions of these foods.
Be aware of how your body responds to lactose, the sugar in dairy foods like milk and yogurt.
Getting IBS under control is a journey and can be a difficult one at that. In the near future, the treatment options for IBS will likely be more robust. Nevertheless, it’s important to know that symptoms can be well managed NOW with the help of a CHARGE Registered Dietitian and other members of your healthcare team.
Post written by Kamran Ahmad, MS, RD, LDN
This information is intended for general advice and may not be applicable to everyone. Please speak to your on-site Registered Dietitian if you have specific questions or to find out what is best for your individual needs.