Do you have stomach pain, cramping, bloating, gas, constipation or other digestive problems? Is it worse when you are stressed? Having trouble deciding what to eat? Maybe you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Find out more about what IBS is and what you can do to relieve or prevent symptoms.
What is IBS?
IBS is a common condition of the large intestine. It generally affects people under the age of 50 and more often affects women than men. IBS is a chronic condition and its symptoms tend to be more severe during times of stress. IBS has sometimes been referred to as “nervous stomach,” however, it is possible to have a nervous stomach and not be diagnosed with IBS. People might also refer to IBS as “spastic colon” or “irritable colon.” The causes of IBS aren’t known, but some situations and environmental triggers can create or add to IBS symptoms.
General symptoms of IBS vary. Most people have times of digestive discomfort followed by relief after a bowel movement. It is not uncommon to experience all symptoms in varying degrees. Some will experience diarrhea and constipation alternately. It is important to see your trusted physician or health care professional if these symptoms increase in severity or are suddenly different and alarming. The most common symptoms include:
- abdominal pain
- halitosis (bad breath)
- mucous in the stool
- social isolation
- stress, anxiety, and moodiness
- muscle weakness
More serious symptoms warrant consultation with a trusted health professional. These can include:
- blood in stool
- abdominal pain that won’t subside
- difficulty swallowing
- sharp spasms or contractions
- weakness, lethargy or muscle fatigue
- pain with sex or sexual disfunction
Triggers of IBS
The exact cause of IBS is unknown. However certain lifestyle situations or pre-existing health challenges can worsen or aggravate IBS. Some factors which may affect and trigger IBS are:
- inflammation of intestines or stomach
- nervous system disorders or neuropathy affecting the digestive system
- muscle spasms or contractions in the stomach and intestines
- severe viral or bacterial infections
- imbalance of microflora in the digestive system
- elevated stress or anxiety, or chronic stress, or mental health disorders
- hormonal changes
- family history of IBS
- certain foods/dietary changes (see below)
What Can I Do About IBS?
There is no cure for IBS. IBS can dramatically affect others. It can lead to social isolation and depression. It’s important to discuss any social, emotional or behavioral effects of IBS with your trust healthcare provider. There are things that one can do to make life a little easier and more manageable.
A change of diet can be helpful in treating symptoms of IBS. Certain foods can be more irritating to the intestinal tract such as dairy products, caffeine, chocolate, carbonated beverages, cabbages and coleslaw, beans, spicy foods, alcohol, heavy fatty foods with rich sauces or toppings, peppers, packaged snack foods, bulky grains, nuts, raisins, garlic, brussel sprouts, pizza, lentils, sauerkraut, artificial sweeteners, onions and other foods that trigger flatulence. Some may need to add fiber to their diet, some may be ingesting too many vegetables, and others may need to add some carbohydrates or starches. A balanced diet is important.
It may be helpful to keep a food diary and note which foods trigger symptoms. Some helpful dietary tips include:
- Eat slowly and mindfully
- Eat small amounts of food at regular intervals
- Choose blueberries, strawberries, bananas, and grapes. Avoid watermelon, raisins, pears, and apples
- Substitute oat milk or rice milk for cow’s milk
- Substitute olive oil or coconut oil for butter
- Substitute gluten-free foods
- Steam or bake foods instead of frying
- Eat carrots, spinach, green beans, squash, and sweet potatoes. Avoid cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and asparagus
- Try a low-FODMAP diet
- Peppermint (noncaffeine), ginger, or chamomile tea may be helpful to alleviate symptoms
Many allopathic doctors prescribe prescription medications for IBS symptoms such as:
However, these temporarily reduce symptoms and can have side effects. Talk to your trusted physician or health practitioner to decide if prescription medications are right for you.
Certain lifestyle changes can be effective in reducing symptoms of IBS, such as:
- Physical Exercise
- Relaxation Exercises
- Psychotherapy or Counseling
- Creative arts or expressive arts
- Support Groups
- Talking to Friends
- Listening to Music
- Drinking Plenty of Fluids
- Getting Enough Sleep
- Reduce Stress
- Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes
Irritable Bowel Syndrom (IBS) is a chronic condition for which there is no cure. It can be an emotionally, socially, and physically challenging condition which dramatically affects one’s quality of life. However, there are many natural changes in lifestyle and diet that can help one to live a happier and more comfortable life.
Jean Dart, M.S. Special Education from Illinois State University, is a published author, speaker, and life coach, and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.” She is a Registered Music Therapist (RMT), Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder, and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance, a 501(c)3 health education nonprofit organization. To find out more about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance visit www.montereybayholistic.com
Disclaimer: The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a charitable, independent registered nonprofit 501 (c) 3 organization and does not endorse any particular products or practices. We exist as an educational organization dedicated to providing free access to health education resources, products, and services. Claims and statements herein are for informational purposes only and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The statements about organizations, practitioners, methods of treatment, and products listed on this website are not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This information is intended for educational purposes only. The MBHA strongly recommends that you seek out your trusted medical doctor or practitioner for diagnosis and treatment of any existing health condition.