Do you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or do you know someone who does?
Statistically speaking, it is very likely that you or a loved one do – even if you have never been diagnosed with it. That is because an estimated 5 to 7.5 million Canadians live with IBS and its painful symptoms. However, despite 13-20% of our population having IBS, the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research says that only 40% of Canadians suffering from it will seek medical help.
So, what exactly is IBS and what can you do if you have it? Irritable bowel syndrome is a painful functional disorder that is incredibly common. While it is not always pleasant, most people with IBS live very fulfilling lives and can manage their IBS pain and discomfort primarily on their own.
If you, your spouse, or your child has recently been diagnosed with IBS, try not to fret! We offer everything you need to understand and manage IBS. Read on for more information about what IBS is, the symptoms and causes, as well as how to treat it with medicine and lifestyle adjustments.
What is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome (or IBS for short) is a common, chronic, and functional disorder that impacts the gastrointestinal tract of people of all ages. It most commonly affects women under 50 years of age, but the disorder’s onset can occur unexpectedly at any point in one’s life.
While the digestive system of people living with IBS is anatomically the same as people without IBS, their intestines function differently. Therefore, IBS is considered a functional disorder.
With IBS, the intestines spasm rather than contracting and relaxing at regular and predictable intervals. These spasms are painful and disrupt food movement, causing either constipation or diarrhea. The movement of gas and fluid is also impacted. In addition, people who have IBS often have highly sensitive nerve endings in their digestive tract, which can result in discomfort, swelling, and bloating.
IBS symptoms are unique to the person and can be experienced with varying frequency and intensity. However, the most common IBS symptoms are known as the "ABCDs of IBS." The ABCDs of IBS include:
IBS is often very unpredictable, which can cause a high amount of anxiety and impact an individual’s day to day. It is common for people living with IBS to have varying combinations of the symptoms above, with one being more dominant and consistent than the others. Stool consistency can also change even within the same day.
The intensity of the pain and discomfort also varies from day to day and person to person. For example, pain from IBS can be:
Symptoms often present themselves shortly after a meal is consumed and can last several hours. There is often intense relief of discomfort following a bowel movement, belch, or gas passing. However, many people also report that they still experience mild pain following the opportunity to eliminate stool or gas.
Other reported experiences of IBS include:
When to see a doctor about suspected IBS symptoms?
It is always a good idea to see a doctor if you experience pain and discomfort, particularly if your symptoms impact your ability to work or enjoy your life.
There are several symptoms that you absolutely should not ignore, including:
These symptoms above may indicate more serious conditions and should, therefore, be investigated by your family doctor at your earliest opportunity.
What Causes IBS?
Research has not yet confirmed the exact causes of IBS, but there are a variety of factors suspected of playing a role, including:
Studies on each are ongoing as researchers remain dedicated to learning more about what enhances and suppresses IBS symptoms. Currently, IBS is considered a chronic condition that does not yet have a cure. Luckily though, there are many ways to manage IBS with medical and lifestyle-related adjustments.
How to Treat IBS With Lifestyle Adjustments
Since IBS symptoms are most often triggered by certain foods and physical and emotional stressors, IBS is often managed primarily by the person diagnosed with the disorder. Lifestyle adjustments are related to food, water, exercise, and stress. Therefore, people who live with IBS are encouraged to:
While these lifestyle changes may not be easy, they can really make a difference and significantly improve your quality of life once they become part of your regular habits and routines.
Remember that you also do not need to navigate these changes alone. Speak with your family doctor or local pharmacist if you feel overwhelmed about where to start or if you would simply like some advice or support at any stage of your IBS journey.
What Does Low FODMAP Diet for IBS Mean?
A low FODMAP diet is a temporary diet that helps you identify IBS trigger foods for your or your loved one. A low FODMAP diet is, unfortunately, quite restrictive, and difficult to maintain for many people when they try to do it independently. For that reason, medical professionals often recommend working with your doctor, dietician, or pharmacist to complete a two-to-six-week FODMAP elimination diet. After that, you can introduce foods back in slowly to see which ones cause the most severe IBS symptoms for you.
FODMAP foods include:
On the other hand, low FODMAP foods include:
Always try to focus on what you can have versus what you need to remove from your diet. Keeping a positive attitude and staying focused on your long-term goal of feeling better will go a long way.
Types of Medications That May Help Treat Symptoms of IBS
In addition to lifestyle changes, there are also many medicinal interventions that can help with IBS pain, diarrhea, and constipation, including:
Talk to your family doctor and local pharmacist about specific over-the-counter and prescription medications that can help treat your/your loved one's IBS.
In conclusion, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common, functional disorder that affects the gastrointestinal system of 13-20% of Canadians. IBS is most common in women, but it can affect anyone at any stage of life.
IBS causes the intestines to spasm rather than optimally functioning with a predictable pattern of contracting and relaxing. The irregular intestinal contractions present in patients with IBS impact the way that food, fluids, and gases move through the system. These irregular spasms cause discomfort, pain, gas, and bloating.
Symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea (known as the ABCDs of IBS), which can vary in intensity and frequency. The causes of IBS remain unknown, but it appears that intestinal contractions, stress, and lifestyle choices with diet and exercise play a significant role.
Luckily, IBS symptoms can be managed by avoiding trigger foods, eating a low FODMAP diet, reducing stress, drinking fluids, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep. In addition, there are also many over the counter and prescription medications to help manage pain and discomfort associated with IBS.
Most importantly, living a very full life with IBS is possible! Remember that you do not need to navigate your IBS journey alone. There is a wonderful support network ready to help you manage a new IBS diagnosis or stick with the lifestyle changes you adopt. While it will not always be easy, if you persevere, you can nurture your digestive system and live your life with less pain and discomfort.
Let Cook’s Pharmacy Help You Manage IBS!
Have you recently been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome? Are you struggling with lifestyle adjustments or require over-the-counter medications to treat IBS pain? Then Cook's Pharmacy is here to help!
Our team of friendly and patient pharmacists in Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, North Dumfries, and Wellesley are very knowledgeable about helping people with IBS find relief through prescription and non-prescription solutions. Reach out to us to get started!