Written by: Jessica Boelk, RN with Agnesian HealthCare
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder that consists of abdominal pain, cramping, fluctuation of bowel patterns (diarrhea and/or constipation), increased gas, bloating and food intolerances. IBS is different from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), such as Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease, as it is not an autoimmune disease and does not cause permanent damage to the colon.
While there is no defined cause for IBS, it is thought that increased stress, anxiety, depression, alteration in gastrointestinal tract motility (too fast or slow), food sensitivities, genetics, previous infection of gastrointestinal tract and alteration in hormone levels can all contribute to symptoms of IBS. Research studies have also suggested individuals first experience symptoms prior to the age of 35, are more common in females and are more common in those with a family history of IBS. IBS is diagnosed when other gastrointestinal disorders are ruled out by lab studies and ordered diagnostics.
There is no specific cure for IBS. The main treatment is dietary modification. A diet low in fat, including more soluble fibers, and little or no dairy products is suggested. Alcohol, caffeine and soda should also be eliminated. A good source of fiber (25 grams) and increased amount of water (64 ounces) is recommended. Small frequent meals are preferred over three large meals. A probiotic may be suggested (such as Florajen).
Lifestyle modifications, such as incorporation of an exercise plan, implementation of positive coping mechanisms for stress reduction and smoking cessation are also key factors in treatment plan. If individuals are still struggling with symptom control, over-the-counter laxatives or anti-diarrheals are suggested to help with management of constipation and diarrhea. Your provider may also prescribe an antispasmotic and/or other medications to help manage your symptoms. For more information on IBS, visit our on-line health library.