Few things in life cause more discomfort than irritable bowel syndrome. The bloating. The constipation. One minute you’re fine, then it hits. And when it does, it’s like there’s something inside you, beating you up
Of course, it’s worse when IBS hits in public, like when you’re at work. Suddenly you really have to go to the bathroom, and everyone knows.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition that makes life miserable to those it affects. Some estimates put the direct costs of IBS between $1.7-$10 billion in the United States each year. One study suggests that IBS costs patients $5,049 in out of pocket expenses annually, and 13.8 hours lost per 40 hour work week.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional bowel disorder and is usually an ongoing problem in those it affects. Symptoms of IBS include:
- abdominal pain
- discomfort and bloating
- change in bowel movements
Irritable bowel syndrome rarely progresses into a dangerous condition, but it can co-exist with another, more urgent illness. Coeliac disease, parasitic infections (like giardiasis) and several inflammatory bowel disease are not uncommon in IBS patients.
You can’t cure IBS, but you can minimize its symptoms as part of a comprehensive, long-term ongoing strategy, of the lifestyle, dietary, stress-related, medical and psychological factors that can cause irritable bowel syndrome. The two foundations for this strategy are:
1) Maintain an open, long-term communication with your doctor, and
2) Keep a journal of your IBS symptoms, and its triggers
While it’s tempting to think that diet is the leading cause of irritable bowel syndrome, a variety of factors can cause IBS, including stress, lifestyle habits, even psychological issues. Healthy lifestyle habits can reduce IBS symptoms and make it bearable.
Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome Should Include:
Exercise – regular walking, running, swimming and other exercises can reduce stress and encourage regular bowel movements.
Stress management – a common factor in irritable bowel syndrome is high levels of stress. Meditation, stress management and psychological intervention or counselling can reduce IBS symptoms.
Medications – while there is no one-size-fits-all medical treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, some medications can alleviate specific symptoms. Stool softeners and laxatives can encourage comfortable bowel movements and prevent constipation. Oddly enough, some anti-depressants can reduce IBS symptoms, but consult with your doctor before pursuing this route.
Dietary Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome:
Dietary management of irritable bowel syndrome is usually a case-by-case basis, as foods that can trigger IBS in one patient might not affect another, and there’s not enough evidence of foods that cause IBS to craft a generic diet. That said, some foods tend to trigger IBS more than others. Therefore, dietary treatment for irritable bowel syndrome might incorporate the following guidelines:
- avoid caffeine and alcohol
- limit intake of fatty foods
- limit dairy, fruit and artificial sweeteners (if constipation’s a problem)
- increase daily fiber intake to 20 grams
- avoid beans, cabbage and uncooked cauliflower and broccoli
Curiously, the countries with the highest rates of irritable bowel syndrome place a large emphasis on spicy foods in their diets. Mexico and Pakistan are among the nations with the highest reported cases of IBS, at 46% and 34% of their populations claiming IBS symptoms respectively.
Irritable bowel syndrome is an ongoing, yet manageable condition. While it can cause pain and discomfort, remember that it’s rarely dangerous. Watch your triggers closely. Note your symptoms, talk to your doctor, and always seek medical advice if your symptoms change. Take notes, err on the side of caution, and use common sense. More likely than not, it’s not a life-changing problem, and with good planning and a bit of common sense, a minimal one at that.