Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition that causes a set of different symptoms, including cramps, stomach pain, diarrhea, and constipation. The disorder is diagnosed after a person has several irritable bowel syndrome symptoms for at least three months.
The intensity of the IBS symptoms varies from person to person. Some people may experience severe discomfort that can interfere with traveling on long and even short distances, while others have short-term stomach pain episodes.
What Causes IBS?
The cause of irritable bowel syndrome is currently unknown. Some researchers suggest that irritable bowel syndrome may be caused by food allergies; however, the theory has not been proven. The other theory is related to genetics but no definite confirmation has been found so far.
Studies showed that IBS doesn’t lead to serious consequences, such as cancer or permanent damage to the large intestine. There is no cure for this syndrome but the symptoms can be alleviated with diet changes, medication and stress relief.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms: Do You Have It?
IBS is a set of several symptoms that last for a long time. Having just one or two might not mean a person has the syndrome. Self-diagnostic is never welcome. Only a doctor can diagnose IBS. Experiencing several of these symptoms at once for a long time is the reason to go for a checkup. The symptoms usually get worse during meals, stressful situations or menstruation and include:
1. Bowel Movement Patterns
You may notice the following symptoms:
- Diarrhea – bowel movements occur more often than usual: more than three per day.
- Constipation – bowel movement occurs less often than usual: less than three per week. Diarrhea and constipation symptoms can occur together.
- Consistency – The stool has a different consistency. It varies from hard and very small to loose and doughy
- Changes – The passing of the stool changes. A person might feel the urge for an urgent bowel movement and feel no relief afterward.
2. Abdominal Pain
Stomach pains and cramping occur in the lower part of the abdomen. Usually, they get worse after eating and better after the bowel movement occurs.
Flatulence is one of the most common IBS symptoms that greatly reduce the quality of life for people at work or other public places.
Bloating is another uncomfortable symptom associated with IBS. It usually comes together with flatulence.
5. Swollen Stomach
People with IBS often suffer from a swollen stomach. The abdomen looks as if the person ate too much.
6. Mucus in Bowel Movements
Mucus is released by the small intestine to help the bowel movement and prevent harsh edges from damaging the internal organs. If the right amount of mucus is released, it is not visible to the eyes. However, visible mucus signals a problem.
Another one of the irritable bowel syndrome symptoms is nausea. The disease makes people experience nauseating feelings, generally after eating, even if the person doesn’t overeat.
8. Early Fullness Feeling
This is the feeling people get when they are satiated. Patients with IBS feel this way, even if they consume a small meal.
Heartburn is always a signal of some problems with the GI tract. However, usually, it goes away after a day or two. Lengthy heartburn symptoms can point to IBS.
10. IBS Symptoms That Are Not Gastrointestinal
- Bad taste in the mouth
- Sexual dysfunction
- Problems with urination
- Low back pains
Severe IBS Symptoms: When to Call Your Doctor
There are several severe symptoms that can accompany irritable bowel syndrome. They can’t be treated without a doctor’s supervision and can point toward more serious problems. If a person experiences one or more of these symptoms, they must contact their physician immediately.
- Blood in the Stool – This may be one of the diverticulitis symptoms.
- Anemia – May be a symptom of bowel cancer.
- Unexplainable Weight Loss – This is also a symptom of diabetes.
- Fever – This is often a symptom of inflammatory process in the body.
- Swelling or Lumps in Stomach or Bottom – The doctor will check for a hematoma.
Diagnosing Your IBS: Can You Do It Yourself?
Only a doctor can make the final diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome. There are no special tests that can diagnose this disease, since there are no obvious problems in the digestive system. Usually, the doctor asks the patient about having several of the symptoms for a long time.
The IBS diagnosis will be made if a patient experiences the following disorders:
- Abdominal pains and discomfort that get better after having a bowel movement.
- Stomach pains occur together with the frequent need to visit the bathroom.
- Abdominal pains are associated with bowel movement consistency.
The above symptoms should occur together with two or more of the following problems:
- Bowel movement pattern change such as strain, urgent need or a feeling of incomplete relief.
- Bloating, abdominal tension.
- Visible mucus in the stool.
- Symptoms worsening during meals.
The above symptomatic diagnosis is usually enough. Your doctor might decide to run further tests to rule out more serious diseases, since some of the IBS symptoms can be similar to colon cancer symptoms and other dangerous conditions. The following tests will be run to check for problems not related to IBS:
- Blood Test: This can help to rule out an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease. Celiac disease symptoms also include stomach pains, diarrhea and bloating.
- Stool Test: This will let the doctor know if you might have Crohn’s disease that will need more serious treatment. Crohn’s disease symptoms include diarrhea, fatigue, abdominal pain and cramping.
Diagnosing IBS on your own is possible. A symptomatic diagnostic is sometimes not enough. A doctor must decide if further tests are required. Accordingly, if the person has done their own diagnosis and found that the symptoms point to the irritable bowel disease, they should still contact their doctor to make the final diagnosis and to find out about further actions.
Finding the Right Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
IBS is a chronic condition that can’t be cured but can be kept in check. There is a great variety of symptomatic treatments offered to help people alleviate the symptoms. Starting a regular irritable bowel symptoms treatment is imperative to improving your quality of life.
The doctor can prescribe different medications to help a patient deal with the syndrome. You may be able to purchase some of them over the counter, but some are prescription drugs. In most cases, medication is not necessary to deal with IBS. There are ways to fight the disease by changing your lifestyle.
Changing Your Diet
Before making dietary changes, it is recommended to identify the foods that cause the most unpleasant IBS symptoms. Keeping a diary for a week will help you understand how to set up your future diet. All food and drink consumption must be recorded, together with the symptoms each meal causes. It is also important to keep track of the quantities you eat.
You should reduce, replace or avoid any foods and drinks that cause your IBS symptoms. This doesn’t mean that you can be consume other foods uncontrollably. People with IBS should stick to a healthy and balanced diet. This includes eating:
- Lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Some starchy carbohydrates, including bread, potatoes and rice.
- Milk and dairy product in moderation. Lactose intolerant people can replace regular milk with rice or oat milk
- Meat, fish, eggs and beans for protein.
- Avoid eating too much foods that contain a lot of fat and sugar. Limit saturated fat including cream, butter and cheese or replace it with unsaturated fats, such as vegetable oil, nuts and avocado.
- At least two liters of fluids, mostly water on a daily basis.
- Reduce or eliminate caffeine, alcohol and soda drinks.
There are variations of irritable bowel syndrome diet. You may want to try a few of them until you find the one that works best for you. Such diets are:
- High-Fiber Diet – Adds bulk to the stool and eases bowel movement. This diet includes fiber-rich products, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Low-Fiber Diet – May help to fight gas and bloating. This diet includes foods with soluble fiber, such as apples, oatmeal and carrots
- Gluten-Free Diet – Helps people with a gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity. Such products as wheat, rye and barley are eliminated
- Low-Fat Diet – May help combat constipation. This diet focuses on avoiding fried foods and animal fats, while focusing on fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy instead
Try each of the above diets for about a week or two to see if they help your particular symptoms. While on a diet, you should continue recording your symptoms to see if it is helping fight your symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Whatever diet you choose, follow these rules to maximize the results:
- Set up a regular meal pattern. Arrange it so you have your meals at the same time every day.
- Consume your meals slowly. Rushing through meals worsens the IBS symptoms.
- Avoid skipping meals. This will make you ravenous and unable to make smart food choices.
- Chew your food carefully. This will prepare your body to accept food
Research has shown that regular exercise can increase the quality of life for people with irritable bowel syndrome. People with excessive body weight suffer from the IBS symptoms much more often than those with low BMI.
During exercise, blood is pumped into other parts of the body and the GI tract calms down. The bowel relaxes and the symptoms decrease. Regular fitness will help the bowel relax even when the person is not exercising. Exercises also increase motility of the colon, bowel transit time and reduce gas.
A study published in American Journal of Gastroenterology showed that exercises reduced the symptoms of IBS. A small group of people with IBS was studied. The first part of the group did exercises for 20 to 60 minutes, three times a week. The control group maintained their regular lifestyle.
After 12 weeks it was found that the exercising group had a significant reduction in the IBS symptoms compared to the control group. In five years the exercising group was revisited. Many of them continued their moderate exercising and reported significant life quality improvement.
Moderate exercising can help reduce IBS symptoms; however, vigorous training can intensify them. Accordingly, the training intensity should be kept in check. Drinking a lot of water is imperative during exercising in order to avoid worsening of the symptoms.
Several rules should be followed in order to get the desired results from the exercising:
- Avoid eating about two hours before and one hour after the exercise.
- Don’t drink hot drinks or drinks containing caffeine.
- Stay away from fast food and gas producing products before exercising.
- Plan exercises for the times when your symptoms are at their quietest.
Most people with IBS know all too well about stress. The stressful situations increase the IBS symptoms and make them much more severe. They don’t need to look for irritable bowel symptoms on Yahoo or any other search engine. Any stress causes most of them to appear immediately.
Stress leads to an increase in colon’s motility and sensation. The increased sensitivity of the bowel can appear as a response to internal and external stress factors. Dealing with stress factors can help alleviate the symptoms. Patients with IBS should work on addressing the stressful issues in order to improve the quality of life.
There are some stress management techniques that can help deal with stress causing the IBS symptoms:
- Meditation – This stress fighting method allows a person to take some time for thinking through the problems. Experiencing the emotions and understanding them can help a person start dealing with problematic situations.
- Taking Deep Breaths – Deep breathing slows down the heart rate and helps you calm down and relax. You can reduce your stomach cramping just by taking a few deep breaths and relaxing.
- Talking to a Therapist – Getting professional help might be time-consuming, but it usually produces the best results. Talking about problems helps patients manage their stress and alleviate the unpleasant symptoms.
- Doing Something Pleasant – Doing something enjoyable and relaxing every once in a while regardless of the lack of time can help improve the overall psychological condition of the patient, which in turn will lead to physiological improvements.
Quick Home Remedies
Long-term remedies work great but they take some time to implement into one’s lifestyle. There are some quick home remedies that people with IBS can start using immediately without any additional preparations.
Tea: Peppermint tea does a good job relaxing your intestines. It helps reduce spasms and deal with gas pains. It is important to find the tea that contains real peppermint. Most of the teas available at supermarkets just have peppermint flavoring. The real peppermint tea will need to be brewed in a pot. A simple teabag will not have the same effect.
An alternative to peppermint tea is enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules. The enteric coating allows the capsule to pass through the stomach and dissolve in the intestine. Taking one or two capsules three times a day between meals is recommended. A physician should be consulted before use.
Ginger is another kind of tea that can help deal with digestive problems. Ginger tea is easily made by grating one tablespoon of ginger into a cup or a saucepan, pouring boiling water over it and leaving it for 10 minutes to brew. Five cups of ginger tea a day are recommended to ease the symptoms of IBS.
Walks: Whenever the symptoms strike, a good way to immediately ease them is to go and take a walk. Any mild exercise is good for helping the intestine relax. Walking is usually the easiest and the most available workout for people of all ages.
Taking a walk around the block or down the street will alleviate your stomach pain and can help with stress relief. Walking will release natural endorphins that can deal with pain and allow the digestive system to work properly.
Fennel Seeds: Fennel is well known for its gas reducing qualities. It can relieve spasms and bloating symptoms. Fennel seeds can get rid of fats in the digestive system. This allows the body not to over-produce the intestinal mucus that leads to IBS symptoms.
There are two ways to take fennel seeds. One of them is making tea. Boiling water is poured over one teaspoon of fennel seeds and left in a cup for about 10 minutes. This herbal tea can be enjoyed two to four times a day
If making tea is taking up too much time, half tablespoon of dry roasted fennel seeds can be turned into powder and taken with warm water.
Yogurt: Digestive problems, such as diarrhea get rid of the useful bacteria that populate your stomach. This allows the harmful bacteria to get out of control. Active bacteria, such as acidophilus are absolutely necessary to help people with IBS restore proper stomach function.
Many types of yogurt contains the active and friendly bacteria needed to reduce IBS symptoms. Such yogurt should be eaten several times a day until the condition improves.
The alternative to yogurt is acidophilus dietary supplements that are usually available over the counter. The supplement should be taken on an empty stomach after consulting your doctor.
Cabbage Juice: Cabbage juice is a useful home remedy for people with IBS who experience constipation. Cabbage juice should be taken carefully since it might increase such symptoms as bloating and flatulence. This juice is known for its laxative effects if you drink it three to four times a day.
Making cabbage juice is easy. Chopped cabbage and boiled water are placed into a blender and blended at low speed. Strain the mixture and the juice is ready to use. Half a glass will be enough for one intake.
Hot Baths: A hot bath can help relax stomach cramping, which is one of the first and most popular symptoms of IBS. Taking a bath for at least 15 minutes daily will help the body relax and will also improve the psychological condition. Hot relaxing baths are known as great stress relievers.
Deep Breaths: When IBS symptoms start as a result of a stressful situation, taking 10 deep breaths will improve a person’s general mental state. Taking some time to relax and review the problems and their solutions can reduce nausea and stomach cramping.
Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is known for its many benefits, including restoring the digestive function of the stomach. The oil contains medium chain triglycerides that sooth and heal the stomach, as well as the intestine. Coconut oil also helps to replenish active and friendly bacteria.
You can add coconut oil to hot and cold drinks. In order for the oil not to clump into balls when you place it in water, blend it into a smoothie or a shake.
Aloe Vera Juice: Aloe vera juice soothes your digestive tract and boosts your immune system. Drinking aloe vera juice daily can help improve the digestion process for people with IBS.
Water: Drinking plenty of water can prevent constipation. When your body is well-hydrated, the stool becomes loose enough to proceed without pain. Drinking enough water is also a good way to prevent overeating since it creates a feeling of fullness.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a very common problem. Unfortunately, this disease is incurable. People with IBS have to deal with unpleasant symptoms on a daily basis. Knowing how to prevent the problem is imperative to increasing the quality of life. There are many different ways to fight the symptoms, so why not start using them now?