Find yourself running to the bathroom more often than you think is normal? Or maybe you have the opposite problem, and it’s been days since you were able to go? If either case describes a situation you repeatedly find yourself in, you may be dealing with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
What is IBS?
IBS is a common disorder that causes problems with digestion, which is directly related to your bowel movements. The exact cause isn’t known, but some factors that may play a large part in the development of IBS include inflammation in the intestines, intestinal infections, and changes in your body’s natural microflora (the bacteria that live in your intestines or gut).
IBS is a chronic condition, but with the right treatment you may be able to manage and minimize your symptoms.
How do I know if I have it?
Symptoms of IBS vary from person to person, but some of the signs you may be experiencing it include:
- Pain in your abdomen
- Stomach cramping
- Bloating and excess gas
You may also experience symptoms you wouldn’t automatically associate with IBS, like anxiety, depression, fatigue, and even insomnia. If you’re struggling with any of these symptoms for an extended period of time, it’s important you mention them to your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
Are there any symptoms to worry about?
It is important to talk your doctor if you think you have IBS as they will be able to assess if there are any other causes to your discomfort. Here are some signs and symptoms that something else may be going on:
- Blood in your stool or ulcers around your anus
- Unintentional weight loss
- Symptoms starting after age 50
- Fever, nausea or recurrent vomiting
- Severe abdominal pain
- Diarrhea that is persistent or awakens you from sleep
Tips for treating IBS
While there’s no cure for IBS, certain treatments may help alleviate some of the symptoms. Here are some of the ways you can effectively manage your IBS:
- Watch your diet: Certain foods are known triggers for people with IBS. So if you suspect that cheeseburger and fries you had for lunch might be causing an emergency trip to the office restroom, try eliminating them (and other similar greasy foods) from your diet for a few weeks to see if you notice a difference. One diet to try for two-four weeks is the FODMAP diet. FODMAP is short for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. The theory is that the gut does not absorb foods well that are high in FODMAP, resulting in bloating and abdominal pain. By initiating a diet low in FODMAP, you can create a baseline diet that is low in irritation and then add foods from your normal diet slowly to identify triggers of abdominal distress.This is a tough diet, so it is recommended to partner with your doctor or nutritionist before trying it on your own.
- Eat more fiber each day: Adding fiber to your daily diet may help IBS-related pain. Fiber can be found in whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Try adding more fiber slowly, as a quick increase could have the opposite result and actually trigger bloating and discomfort.
- Reduce stress: Stress can cause IBS symptoms to show up when you least want them to. Though the relationship between stress and IBS isn’t totally understood yet, IBS sufferers often notice a connection between the two. Try to reduce the stress you feel on a daily basis — through meditation, exercise, or making time for friends — and see if your symptoms subside.
- Try yoga to aid digestion: No, yoga is not a cure all for for IBS, but exercise is a fantastic way to reduce stress. Try some of these yoga poses to calm your nerves and your bowels.
If you think you might have IBS, it’s important to talk to your doctor to make sure the symptoms you’re experiencing aren’t indicators of something more serious. To learn more about IBS and the treatments that might be right for you, book an appointment today.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
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