IBSYou, probably, are so used to eating junk foods on a regular basis that you start ignoring the gassy, burpy and grumbling reactions of your body to these foods. It’s time to be more aware and attentive because by not listening to your body or gut, to be precise, you are just adding on to the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

There have been several misconceptions about IBS and one of the biggest ones is that IBS is a disease. It is a group of symptoms caused by changes in the functions of the GI tract which include stomach ache (lower region), diarrhoea, bloating and constipation. (Read: Diarrhoea – causes, symptoms,treatment and prevention)

Individual symptoms of IBS are so common that people can hardly differentiate between IBS and other irregularities of bowel movement. This could the reason why most people with the problem don’t seek medical help.

When should I visit a doctor?

Although IBS is not a life-threatening condition but living with it can get really difficult as the symptoms may worsen with time and lead to other conditions like haemorrhoids. Therefore, any digestive problem that lasts for more than 3 months should be addressed by a specialist. Sometimes, the symptoms of constipation or diarrhoea accompanied with cramps may worsen for a few weeks and then subside for a while. In such cases, too, it is better to visit a doctor. Because the symptoms of IBS also tend to overlap with symptoms of other intestinal disorders, it is always better to get a check up done 

  • You start losing weight for no reason
  • You have difficulty in swallowing of if you feel that food gets stuck while eating
  • Bloating is not relieved for a long while
  • You notice bleeding from the rectum
  • You feel tired all the time.

 Diagnosis

The doctor will identify your problem as IBS if the main symptoms of stomach pain (lower region), gas, and bloating persist for at least 3 days every month for over 3 months. (Read: 10 reasons for bloating or abdominal gas you didn’t know about)

Other signs that indicate IBS include:

  • Urgency to defecate
  • Painful and straining bowel movement
  • Feeling that the bowel movement is incomplete
  • Passing of a clear fluid called mucus that protects the tissues in GI tract

To confirm IBS, your doctor may ask you to take some blood tests. These tests are often recommended to rule out other serious diseases.

  • A blood test may be done to check if you are suffering from celiac disease or low blood count due to anaemia.
  • A stool test may be done to rule out the possibility of infections
  • A colonoscopy (viewing the rectum and colon) may be required for older patients to eliminate inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

What triggers IBS?

The exact cause of IBS is not yet understood. However, researchers believe that both physical and mental health problems are capable of triggering IBS.

  • Foods

Specific food eating habits are found to trigger IBS. Many patients with IBS report that the common signs of IBS are often triggered after eating carbohydrate rich foods, spicy and fatty foods or beverages like coffee and alcohol. It is believed that symptoms of IBS may result due to weak absorption of sugars or bile acids that help fats to break down and eliminate wastes from the body. 

  • Mental health

Studies have found a link between people with anxiety, stress, depression or other psychological problems and development of IBS. However, the establishment of the link is yet unclear.

  • Genetics

It has been observed that people whose family members suffer from intestinal problems often show the symptoms of IBS. 

  • Infection

Some patients who have an intestinal infection (gastroenteritis) may develop symptoms of IBS. This is called post-infectious IBS. The reason is not clearly understood.

 Treatment of IBS

IBS does not have a definite cure. But there are different ways in which the symptoms of IBS can be treated. 

Dietary changes

The most common trigger of IBS is food sensitivity. Therefore, in majority of the cases, a change in eating habits may be suggested. There is no specific diet for IBS that should be followed as such. But the following changes in eating habits may help: 

  • Include fibre-rich foods in your diet
  • Drink lots of water
  • Avoid eating spicy foods and foods rich in fats
  • Avoid other foods and drinks like coffee, tea that you think might trigger the symptoms
  • Control portion size. Instead of having larger meals at one time, divide it into smaller meals over the day
  • Do not overeat or eat at midnights
  • Follow a healthy lifestyle. Exercise regularly and sleep adequately (at least for 7 hours a day) (Read: Top 10 home remedies for constipation)

Medication 

It’s better to avoid taking over-the-counter drugs. Consult your doctor before taking one. There is no single medicine that can tackle all the symptoms of IBS. But, your doctor may prescribe:

  • Antispasmodics like alverine citrate and mebeverine to relieve abdominal cramps
  • Hyperosmotic or lubricant  laxatives for constipation
  • Antidiarrhoeals such as Loperamide to ease boating and cramps
  • Antibiotics like rifaximin, in case of an infection
  • Antidepressants to reduce the effect of stress and other related factors that may have triggered the condition 

Alternatives for treatment of IBS 

  • There are studies showing that intake of probiotics, live organisms commonly found in the GI tract, improve IBS symptoms. Yogurt is a good natural probiotic that can be taken if you are not lactose intolerant. Other option would be taking probiotic supplements available in the form of capsules and powders.
  • People with IBS are often suggested mental therapies to reduce stress in life. These therapies usually involve relaxation and stress-management techniques that improve focus and reduce anxiety and depression (Read: Hypnosis could cure Irritable Bowel Syndrome!)
  • Alternative treatments like herbal remedies, homeopathy and acupuncture do show slight positive effect on quality of life of IBS patients, but there is no convincing evidence for the same.      

Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of diarrhoea.

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