Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition that affects how the gastrointestinal system functions. IBS is estimated to affect about 12 percent of the US population and women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with IBS. With IBS there are no visible or clinical signs of damage or disease in the gastrointestinal system and the cause is not known or well understood.
This column will help you understand what IBS is and its symptoms along with ways to treat IBS so that if you or a loved one have IBS, you can learn more and take steps to start feeling better.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
Symptoms of IBS vary and can be different from person to person. Typically, they will include one or more of the following:
• Abdominal Pain
• Incomplete bowel movements
These symptoms often overlap with other possible conditions so it is important to discuss all symptoms with your physician to rule out other possibilities.
Different types of IBS
There are different types of IBS based on the predominate bowel patterns.
• IBS with constipation (IBS-C)
• IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D)
• IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M)
The type of IBS can be important when considering treatment options, so be sure to describe all of your symptoms to your physician.
Effect on quality of life
Irritable bowel syndrome can have a major impact on a person’s overall quality of life. Symptoms associated with IBS can interfere with your daily life and can mean missing school or work and avoiding social gatherings. The symptoms may also interfere with your overall nutrition as a result of skipped meals or changes to your diet.
Treatment of IBS
Although there is no cure for IBS, there are several ways to treat it and alleviate the symptoms. Treatment is based on the predominant symptoms present and options may include medication, stress management, or diet and lifestyle changes.
Many IBS patients report certain foods trigger symptoms associated with IBS, making dietary management an important component of treating IBS. Research has shown a low FODMAP diet may be an effective dietary approach to ease the symptoms associated with IBS. FODMAPs are fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols which are a group of carbohydrates found naturally in many foods that are poorly absorbed in the digestive tract and may trigger symptoms associated with IBS. The low FODMAP diet involves completely eliminating high FODMAP foods and then reintroducing foods to identify any specific food triggers. It is best to follow a low FODMAP diet under the guidance of Registered Dietitian with training on implementing this diet.
There are lots of resources where you can learn more about IBS and the low FODMAP diet including the National Institute of Diabetes Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the American College of Gastroenterology, and Monash University’s low FODMAP Diet website.
Although it may feel like IBS is taking a toll on your life or keeping you from enjoying things you love, talking to your doctor about different treatment options can help you find relief from your symptoms and get back to normal.
Nickie Kaetzel, RDN, LD is a clinical dietitian at Fisher-Titus Medical Center and is trained on the use of a low FODMAP diet for IBS by Monash University. For help in reaching your health and wellness goals, contact your primary care physician for a referral for outpatient nutrition counseling.