Everyone experiences discomfort in their gut from time to time. It can occur when we are nervous about something, or when we eat something that doesn’t agree with us. But if you regularly feel pain in your abdomen, it might be a sign of a disorder called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Irritable bowel syndrome affects about 1 in 5 Americans, and occurs more often in women than men, and usually begins before the age of 35.
There’s no medical test to identify irritable bowel syndrome. Your doctor may make a diagnosis based on the patient’s symptoms and through exclusion of other problems. The most common IBS symptoms include bloating and pain in the abdomen, along with changes in bowel habits. People with irritable bowel syndrome may have constipation, diarrhea or both.
IBS doesn’t lead to cancer or other health problems, but the discomfort it causes can be difficult to live with. No one really knows what causes irritable bowel syndrome yet everyone agrees stress plays an important role in triggering symptoms. Stress reduction strategies can help relieve these symptoms.
Some researchers suspect that IBS can be caused by a change in bacteria in the digestive tract. Digestion is aided by helpful bacteria, but sometimes the bacteria in our gut can change, especially after taking certain medications. We often suggest a supplement of probiotics to aid digestion and reduce IBS symptoms. Probiotics are available as capsules, tablets and powders, and they’re found in some dairy foods, such as yogurt. The benefits of probiotics is still however under investigation.
Many people with irritable bowel syndrome find that certain foods can make them feel worse. Irritable bowel syndrome patients are generally more sensitive to a variety of foods. Some researchers believe a diet low in Fermentable Oligo, Di & Mono-Saccharides and Polyols (FODMAP) may help eliminate chronic bloating and gas. We recommend patients keep a diary of the foods they eat and how they make them feel so that they can share this information with their doctor.
Every case of irritable bowel syndrome is unique, so if you have symptoms that disrupt your life, don’t suffer in silence. Your doctor can work with you to find the treatment that works best for you.