Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common, chronic, and often debilitating functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder. There is no known cause of IBS, but research has shown that it likely involves an interaction between the GI tract, bacteria in the gut, the nervous system, and external factors, such as stress.
You likely know at least one person affected by IBS, especially if you live in Canada:
- Affects 13-20% of Canadians at any given time
- Risk of Canadian developing IBS is 30%
- For unknown reasons, women are more likely to develop IBS than men
- Can begin at anytime during life, and patients can go long periods without a flare (but it can recur at any time)
- No test to confirm or rule out IBS diagnosis, yet the most common GI condition worldwide
- Most frequent disorder in patients consulting a gastroenterologist (GI specialist)
Know Your ABCD’s – Symptoms of IBS
A: Abdominal Pain
IBS is a functional disorder – which means that there are no visible signs of the disorder. For this reason, diagnosis can be difficult. If you think you may have IBS it is important to talk to a doctor, who may refer you to a gastroenterologist (GI specialist).
The Canadian Society of Intestinal Research developed a 30-second test to allow patients to check-in on themselves and see if the symptoms they are experiencing may be IBS:
- Have you had abdominal pain at least one day a week during the past 3 months?
- If yes to the above, have you experienced at least two of the following:
- Pain associated with bowel movements?
- Pain associated with a change in the frequency of bowel movements?
- Pain sometimes associated with constipation or diarrhea?
If you answered “no” to either question, it is likely that you do not have IBS. However, if you answered “yes” to one of these questions you may still want to consult with your doctor.
If you answered “yes” to both of the questions, you might have IBS. It is important to remember that many Canadians live with this disorder – you are not alone! There are many treatment options available to improve your quality of life. Consult with your physician, who will help you investigate further.
IBS Myths vs Facts
Myth: IBS is the same as IBD (inflammatory bowel disease)
- IBS: While they sound similar, they are different conditions. IBS patients have no visible disease, and their symptoms are caused by an improperly functioning digestive tract.
- IBD: People with IBD suffer from inflammation in the intestine and have more possible complications such as surgery or a higher chance of developing colorectal cancer.
- It is possible to have both conditions! The GI society created a chart so you can compare your symptoms: click here.
Myth: A treatment worked for my friend, so it will also work for me.
Fact: IBS affects every patient differently – that’s why there are a wide variety of treatments for IBS. Work with you doctor, gastroenterologist, and your dietician to figure out the best course of treatment for you.
Myth: People with IBS can’t eat <insert food here>
Fact: Research has shown that there aren’t any specific foods that are bad for all patients with IBS. There are some foods that are more likely to cause symptoms, but that does not mean they will affect everyone with IBS. If you have IBS, it’s important to try a variety of foods and keep track of how they affect you. No food is expressly off-limits for all IBS patients.
Myth: IBS is all in your head
Fact: IBS is a functional disorder – meaning there are no visual signs of illness – but this does not mean it’s not a real GI disorder. Stress, anxiety, and depression can increase symptoms, but they are NOT the cause of IBS.
Myth: IBS isn’t that big of a deal
Fact: Some patients may only experience minor symptoms, but for others IBS can be extremely debilitating. Chronic diarrhea can make patients afraid to leave their homes, and persistent constipation can cause intense pain and bloating. These types of symptoms can lead to social isolation and missed work that can negatively impact patients’ mental health. source found here
Treatment and Management
Our GI tracts are very complex systems and are affected not only by the food we eat but also the environment in which we are eating. The best way you can help your IBS is to try to understand and identify your unique set of symptoms and triggers. This will take time and dedication, but it is possible to get relief.
Along with dietary changes, some common treatments include medications, physiotherapy, probiotics, and other alternative therapies. Consult with a doctor before making any major changes to your lifestyle.
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
All of our bodies respond to the fuel they’re given – but in IBS patients its especially important to be mindful to eat regular, well-balanced, moderately sized meals. It’s possible for IBS symptoms to improve just by following regular eating and bathroom routines. A healthy sleep schedule and a moderate amount of exercise can also help to reduce symptoms.
Get Your Stress Under Control
- While IBS is not a phycological disorder, stress has direct impacts on the digestive tract
- Patients may experience worsened IBS symptoms if they have:
- Poor sleep habits
- Are working too hard
- Consuming excessive amounts of caffeine
- It has been found that patients who take measures to reduce their stress can reduce their IBS symptoms. Changes like:
- Sticking to a healthy sleep schedule
- Seeking psychological treatment to get stress and anxiety under control
Keep a Food Diary
Since all patients with IBS have a unique experience, it’s important to figure out your own triggers. Keeping track of what you’re eating – and how you react to it – in a journal can be very helpful to identify foods that are safe to consume and which ones you may want to avoid. It is important to consult with a registered dietician before eliminating any food groups long-term.
Importance of Fibre
- Increasing your intake of dietary fibre from plants is an important step towards controlling the symptoms of IBS.
- Make sure to gradually increase your fibre intake, so your body has time to adjust to the change.
- Increasing your water intake at the same time is important to reduce any negative effects that may arise from sudden dietary changes
Low FODMAPs Diet
One diet that has become increasingly popular as a treatment for IBS is called the Low FODMAPs Diet. It is vital that you consult with a registered dietician who has specific experience with IBS before you attempt this restrictive diet – they are there to ensure you still meet your daily nutritional requirements. It is important to note that this treatment does not work for everyone – don’t be discouraged! Your doctor is there to work with you to find the right treatment for your IBS.
What are FODMAPs?
Oligo-saccharides (ex. Fructans, galactans)
Di-saccharides (ex. Lactose)
Mono-saccharides (ex. Glucose, fructose)
Polyols (ex. Sorbitol, xylitol)
This diet begins with the complete elimination of all FODMAPs for 6-12 weeks, followed by a gradual reintroduction to identify a tolerable intake. Patients usually find relief during the elimination period and can maintain this relief as they slowly introduce small amounts of FODMAPs back into their diets.
If you think you may have IBS, you don’t have to live in pain – book an appointment with a Sabe Wellness doctor today. They can discuss symptom management or give you a referral to a Gastroenterologist.