Uncomfortable and inconvenient are two words that best describe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but there is so much more. Irritable bowel syndrome is a very common condition that affects the colon and causes cramping, pain in the abdomen, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. There is no cure for irritable bowel syndrome but it can normally be managed with irritable bowel syndrome treatment. Here’s what you can do.
What is irritable bowel syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome, or more technically correct irritable bowel disease (IBD), describes a number of chronic or recurring gastrointestinal conditions. Most often with this disease, the body’s own immune system will respond in an overactive, abnormal way to food and other materials in the intestines. Due to this, the immune system actually attacks the cells of the intestines, leading to chronic inflammation.
In Crohn’s disease, this inflammation generally affects the end of the small bowel and the beginning of the large bowel. With ulcerative colitis, the inflammation is limited to the colon, or large bowel.
Now, however, we are beginning to study how these conditions of the gut are affecting people every day. We can start to understand the impact of these conditions by considering that:
- The CDC estimates that as many as 1.4 million people in the U.S. suffer from irritable bowel diseases
- The CDC also reports that irritable bowel diseases have an overall healthcare cost of $1.7 billion
- Ulcerative colitis, one of the more common irritable bowel diseases, affects as many as 700,000 people in the U.S.
- The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America also estimates that another 700,000 people in the U.S. suffer from Crohn’s disease
- Certain studies cited by the National Institutes of Health estimate that irritable bowel syndrome may affect as many as 20% of the U.S. adult population
What are common irritable bowel syndrome symptoms?
Though they both affect the gut, irritable bowel syndrome is not to be confused with irritable bowel disease. Instead of intestinal inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is characterized by changes in how the GI tract works, but not actual damage to that system. Irritable bowel syndrome, however, does share many of the same symptoms, including diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Symptoms of both conditions include:
- Loose stool or diarrhea
- Abdominal pain
- Extreme weight loss
Unlike irritable bowel diseases, the causes of IBS are not as well understood. Instead of a single dysfunction in the body, irritable bowel syndrome may be caused by a combination of factors, including:
- Brain to gut signaling problems
- GI tract motor problems
- Mental health issues
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
- Body chemicals, such as GI hormones
- Food sensitivities
Since there are such a wide range of possible causes, there are often overlaps between irritable bowel syndrome and other medical conditions. IBS has a high association with other conditions like:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Chronic pelvic pain
- TMJ disorder
- Chronic pain
- Depression and anxiety
What can you do for irritable bowel syndrome treatment?
While these symptoms are unpleasant, irritable bowel syndrome doesn’t cause a change in the bowel tissue or increase risk of cancer like inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. In fact, not everyone with irritable bowel syndrome exhibits symptoms at all. Others can manage the effects of the condition through diet and lifestyle changes. In more severe cases patients may need medication.
If you’re dealing with irritable bowel syndrome and your doctor has suggested making changes in your behavior and eating habits to control the condition, you may want to start with some home remedies to see if they work.
1. Make friends with fiber
Fiber can be both the best friend and worst enemy for someone with irritable bowel syndrome. It can help with constipation but it can also cause painful gas and bloating. However, you may find that different levels or methods of fiber might work best. Eating foods with lots of fiber might be better than taking a fiber supplement or vice versa.
Unfortunately, the only way to really know how fiber will affect you is to experiment with it. As you learn what works and doesn’t you might have brief periods of discomfort but it will only be temporary.
2. Have regular meal times
It is important that your body has a regular schedule to help keep your irritable bowel syndrome from flaring up. Don’t skip meals and try to eat at the same time every day. Also, pay attention to what your body is telling you.
For instance, if your main problem is diarrhea you may find that eating several small meals throughout the day can help keep things on track. If you suffer from constipation, larger meals with a high fiber content might be better for you.
3. Drink water
Fluids are very necessary especially if one of your primary symptoms is diarrhea. It can cause your body to lose more water than normal so they need replenishing. Water is the best choice but you could add some juices or sports drinks.
Definitely avoid anything with caffeine as this can actually stimulate your intestines and make symptoms worse. Carbonated beverages will increase the likelihood of uncomfortable gas. Alcohol can also cause problems for someone dealing with the effects of irritable bowel syndrome.
4. Be careful with dairy
For many people, lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome go hand in hand. If you find that your body has a hard time digesting milk you should avoid it or take precautions while consuming it. For example, yogurt might be an alternative that works well for your body rather than straight milk.
Smaller amounts of dairy at a time may also be helpful. If you do find that you can no longer consume dairy at all be sure that you are eating enough other foods with the essential vitamins and minerals that you were getting from milk or other dairy products. These include calcium, protein, and several vitamins.
5. Exercise regularly
Moving your body helps move your digestive system. If you’re not someone who enjoys regular exercise start adding workouts to your routine slowly. A walk around the block can help kick start the right reactions in your gut. Exercise has plenty of other benefits as well.
It can help stem depression and stress and make you feel better overall. If you can, exercise outside to help yourself feel better. Start slow and work your way up as you get used to the new physical activity.
6. Take a probiotic
Your digestive system is already populated by a variety of bacteria that help your body process food. If these bacteria become out of balance it can cause digestive problems, including the discomfort of irritable bowel syndrome.
Probiotics are the helpful bacteria. If you’re having problems with your bowel it may help to add them to your diet or as a supplement to your daily routine. Yogurt and fermented foods, such as kimchi, are a great natural source of probiotics.
7. Learn what foods to avoid and foods to include in your diet
While there is no cure for IBD, the first step for managing symptoms is to change the diet. Because symptoms for each condition can vary widely, there are a number of foods that can cause stomach problems, including pain, during a flare-up. Here are eight foods to avoid and five foods to incorporate into your diet for a healthy gut.
Yes, this involves even more experimentation but it will be worth it in the long run. Start a food diary and track everything you eat and whether or not it causes your IBS discomfort. This will help you determine which foods are worse for your system and what actually makes you feel better. For instance, you may find that wheat is a big problem for you so you can begin to avoid it.
Always talk to your doctor if you’re unsure about what foods to try and avoid. Here’s some of the biggest ones to avoid.
Many people suffer from minor lactose intolerance without even knowing it. Lactose is a type of sugar that can be difficult to digest, causing gas, pain, and bloating. Milk and milk products like cheese and ice cream are among the biggest culprits of foods that can cause stomach problems even for people without IBD.
While pain patients may get great benefit from spicy foods, when stomach issues are present, a bland diet is the best choice. Spice tends to stimulate digestion, not what you want when the digestion is overly active.
If your IBD symptoms include diarrhea, insoluble fiber isn’t doing you any favors. This type of fiber is not readily absorbed by the stomach and thus passes very quickly through, the opposite of what is needed.
Zucchini, broccoli, cabbage, leafy greens, grapes, and root vegetables are some of the foods that can cause stomach problems for those with irritable bowel syndrome.
High acid foods
High acid foods such as citrus and tomatoes can irritate an already-inflamed stomach and should be avoided when having stomach problems. Coffee and carbonated beverages can also be highly irritating.
Excess fat is no good at any time, but it is one of the key foods that can cause many different types of stomach problems. Fat not only stimulates the stomach but can also slow it down, causing either diarrhea or constipation.
Fried foods fall into the category of foods that can cause stomach problems, too, either moving too quickly through the digestive tract or lingering too long, depending on the type of stomach issue.
Processed foods often contain artificial colors and preservatives, which may cause a negative reaction in the stomach. In addition, the lack of fiber combined with the presence of lactose and other allergy triggers can cause constipation and bloating.
Processed foods include things like boxed mixes, crackers, and many snack foods, all of which can increase stomach discomfort.
Artificial sweeteners, even those that claim to be “natural” like stevia, can actually worsen nausea and stomach discomfort.
Many people have difficulty digesting artificial sweeteners in general, but any amount during a bout of stomach upset can make the problem worse.
Caffeine and alcohol
It may seem like a given that these two drinks can cause stomach upset, but many people suffering from IBD are reluctant to give up their morning coffee or evening cocktail. Still, alcohol and caffeine can be severely irritating to the stomach.
Both are also dehydrating, with an excess of either caffeine or alcohol increasing the acidity of the stomach and thus increasing the chance for nausea.
Foods to incorporate into your diet
For many, certain foods can offer comfort during a flare-up of any stomach condition. They include:
- Fermented foods: Fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, and kefir help your gut recolonize itself with healthy microbes. Many conditions of the body can be associated with an imbalance of bacteria in the gut. Fermented foods can help strengthen the 100 trillion microbes in your stomach.
- Soluble fiber: Soluble fiber – the kind found in fruits and vegetables like oranges, strawberries, blueberries, cucumbers, and carrots – can help slow digestion down, alleviating diarrhea. Soluble fiber attracts water in the digestive system and helps the body to absorb nutrients better.
- BRAT diet: When experiencing a bout of stomach upset, whether it is accompanied by diarrhea, constipation, nausea, or a combination of the three, the BRAT diet is the best way to settle your stomach. BRAT is an acronym that stands for “bananas, rice, applesauce, toast.” These mild foods can help ease nausea without too much of a digestive burden.
- Papaya: Papaya has special digestive enzymes, papain and chymopapain, that help soothe the stomach and break down protein. Papaya can be taken after every meal to ease constipation, help with stomach pain, and calm a bout of nausea.
- Ginger: Ginger is a research-proven stomach soother, especially for pain, nausea, and indigestion. This can be taken fresh in a tea or as a supplemental capsule, starting with one gram every four hours as needed, with a limit of four grams per day.
What to do next?
Before trying any of these irritable bowel syndrome treatment options, seek medical attention if your irritable bowel syndrome symptoms don’t get better.
If, after you alter your lifestyle, you are still experiencing discomfort from the condition it is important that you consult your doctor and talk about possible treatments beyond these changes. Some patients do not find relief in these natural ways and need to rely on medications to help them.
Avoiding medical intervention is desirable, but no one should live with discomfort if it can be treated. Talk to your doctor about the things you’re already doing and how you can improve your condition. You can find a pain doctor in your area by clicking the button below or looking for one in your area by using the tips here: https://paindoctor.com/pain-management-doctors/.