Addressing Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms

May 27, 2010

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a condition that causes abdominal pain and irregular bowel movements. IBS is very common, affecting 20% of people, mostly women. Although irritable bowel syndrome isn’t serious–it doesn’t increase the chances of developing colon cancer, like inflammatory bowel disease does, nor does it damage your colon–it can aggravate hemorrhoids, and interfere with you life, causing missed days at work (affecting your success), missed social engagements, and difficulty (or discomfort) being intimate with your partner.

The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome overlap with those of more serious diseases, including colon cancer, so check your family history for IBS, colon cancer, etc. See your doctor to rule out more serious diseases, as well as other illnesses that you may be confusing for IBS, including an infection (which can cause IBS after it’s treated), inflammation, and food allergies. If you have symptoms of a more serious disease, see you doctor right away. These symptoms may include: onset late in life, bloody stool, and unexplained weight loss.

Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms include:

  • Abdominal Pain
    • Cramping
    • Bloating
    • Gas
    • Swollen (Distended) Abdomen
  • Constipation & Diarrhea; for it to be IBS they need to be chronic and frequent for 12 weeks, although not fully continuous. Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms may alternate between constipation and diarrhea.
  • Any of the above occurring more often after meals
  • Loss of appetite
  • A change in your bowel movements, either in frequency or type
  • Having a bowel movement may temporarily relieve symptoms, and IBS symptoms may be inconsistent
  • Mucus in your stool
  • Difficulty during a bowel movement (straining, not feeling complete)

Irritable bowel syndrome is often worsened by emotional stress or fluctuation. You may experience a low tolerance for stretching and movement of the intestine.

IBS is more likely to occur if a parent or sibling has also had it, which may indicate an environmental trigger (there may also be a genetic link). What triggers irritable bowel syndrome symptoms can vary between people, stress, hormones, and food being the three main categories.

The best solution to irritable bowel syndrome is to learn to manage it, which means identifying triggers.

If you suspect food is to blame, try an elimination diet to determine which foods affect you the worst. Common foods associated with irritable bowel syndrome include:

  • Chocolate
  • Milk (all dairy–check for lactose intolerance)
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Foods that cause bloating (carbonated beverages, raw vegetables, especially cabbage and cruciferous vegetables)

Depending on what foods you choose to avoid, make sure that you aren’t crippling your nutritional intake. Consider taking a multi vitamin if there are a lot of foods that trigger your IBS.

Foods that you may want to include in your diet for irritable bowel syndrome are more fiber (to help with constipation) and coconut (and, specifically, coconut water), which also helps to ease constipation, but may also be valuable in cases of diarrhea as it’s very nutritious with a full array of electrolytes that will help rehydrate you.

If you think hormones are triggering your irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, which is especially common for women during menstruation, try anticipating with medicine targeted to cramping (the same chemical initiating uterus contraction can also affect your bowels).

To manage your stress, make sure that you’re exercising, sleeping, and taking mental breaks whenever you start to feel stress coming on.

Possible remedies your doctor may prescribe include antidepressants to help with emotional complications and intestinal pain, medications to treat either diarrhea or constipation, and counseling. Some doctors prescribe antibiotics, but there’s no clear indication that this helps IBS. If you’re worried about bacteria, check for inflammatory bowel disease, and consider a probiotic supplement, which helps replenish “good” bacterial colonies that help keep out “bad” ones.

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