Everything You Need to Know About Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?Irritable Bowel Syndrome, commonly referred to as IBS, is a disorder of the digestive tract that affects the stomach and intestines. IBS can cause widespread abdominal pain and cramping, bloating, gas, and constipation and/or diarrhea. Unlike other bowel disorders, irritable bowel syndrome does not cause any damage to the intestinal tract.
3 Types of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
There are 3 main types of irritable bowel syndrome:
- IBS-D is the main type of IBS which primarily causes loose watery stools (diarrhea) alongside abdominal discomfort and bloating
- IBS-C causes chronic constipation with abdominal discomfort and bloating
- IBS-M, or mixed type, which causes combination of both diarrhea and constipation as well as abdominal discomfort, gas and/or bloating
Causes of IBS
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is not a very well understood disease and scientists aren’t entirely sure what causes it though it often begins after a bout of severe diarrhea caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Irritable bowel syndrome may also be caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in the digestive tract.
If someone in your immediate family has irritable bowel syndrome, you are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop it yourself.
What causes the symptoms of IBS?
The intestinal tract is lined with muscles that contract to help stool move through the bowel. With IBS-D the muscles of the intestines contract faster and for longer periods of time than usual, causing gas, bloating and watery stools. On the contrary, with IBS-C, the muscles of the intestine move slower and weaker than normal, causing dry stools which result in constipation.
Who is Affected by Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?Irritable bowel syndrome is a very common gastrointestinal disorder that affects approximately 15% of the population. Women are twice more likely to develop IBS than their male counterparts and diagnosis usually occurs before the age of 40 - often in childhood and young adulthood.
Diagnosing Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Unfortunately there is no one specific test to diagnose IBS so your healthcare provider will take a history of your symptoms and perform a physical exam to help make a diagnosis. Occasionally your doctor may run additional testing like bloodwork or a colonoscopy to rule out other more serious bowel disorders like celiac disease, crohn’s & colitis, diverticulitis, etc.
Symptoms like bloody stools or bleeding from the rectum, weight loss and anemia are all signs of something more serious and should require further testing.
Common Comorbidities with Irritable Bowel Syndrome
What is a comorbidity?
A comorbidity is an overlapping chronic condition that coincides with one or more other long-term chronic conditions. Studies show that at least 50% of patients with IBS have one or more comorbidities. IBS has quite a few comorbidities including but not limited to:
- Anxiety and Depression
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
- Interstitial Cystitis
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome
The majority of people with IBS can manage their symptoms with lifestyle changes, reduction in stress and diet modifications. Rarely, medication may be needed.
It can be helpful to keep a food and symptom journal for several weeks in a row to help determine what foods might cause your IBS to flare. By keeping a journal, it can help you notice patterns of diarrhea or constipation as well as gas, bloating and abdominal discomfort. If you discover certain foods are a trigger for you, it can help to eliminate them from your diet all together.
While everyone reacts differently to certain foods and food groups, many IBS patients will find some relief with certain diets like gluten free, FODMAP, AIP Protocol, etc.
Changing the way you eat may also help manage your symptoms. Eating smaller meals throughout the day and slowing down how fast you eat may help reduce your IBS flares as well as making sure not to eat too close to bedtime.
Taking a high quality, multi-strain probiotic may help reduce the severity of your IBS symptoms. B. longum, L. plantarum and L. acidophilus are all excellent probiotic strains to help manage diarrhea associated with IBS-D.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome FAQ's
When is Irritable Bowel Syndrome awareness month?
April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Month to bring awareness to this disorder that effects approximately 1 in 20 people.
Is IBS an autoimmune disease?
No, IBS is not an autoimmune disease however it's a common comorbidity with a number of systemic autoimmune diseases.
Does IBS increase your risk of colorectal (colon) cancer?
No, having IBS does not increase your risk of developing colon cancer or other cancers. If you are experiencing symptoms of rectal bleeding or bloody stools, please consult your doctor for further testing as these are not normal in irritable bowel syndrome alone.
Can probiotics help IBS?
Studies have shown that probiotics are beneficial in the management of IBS and may help slow down the muscles of the intestine, improve stool consistency and reduce the frequency of bowel movements. Some of the more beneficial strains include Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus acidophilus.