Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects the large intestine (colon). Irritable bowel syndrome commonly causes cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation. IBS is a chronic condition that you will need to manage long term.
Even though signs and symptoms are uncomfortable, IBS — unlike ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which are forms of inflammatory bowel disease — doesn’t cause changes in bowel tissue or increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
Only a small number of people with irritable bowel syndrome have severe signs and symptoms. Some people can control their symptoms by managing diet, lifestyle and stress. Others will need medication and counseling.
The signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can vary widely from person to person and often resemble those of other diseases. Among the most common are:
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- A bloated feeling
- Diarrhea or constipation — sometimes alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea
- Mucus in the stool
For most people, IBS is a chronic condition, although there will likely be times when the signs and symptoms are worse and times when they improve or even disappear completely.
What causes IBS?
It’s not known exactly what causes irritable bowel syndrome, but a variety of factors play a role. The walls of the intestines are lined with layers of muscle that contract and relax in a coordinated rhythm as they move food from your stomach through your intestinal tract to your rectum. If you have irritable bowel syndrome, the contractions may be stronger and last longer than normal, causing gas, bloating and diarrhea. Or the opposite may occur, with weak intestinal contractions slowing food passage and leading to hard, dry stools.
Abnormalities in your gastrointestinal nervous system also may play a role, causing you to experience greater than normal discomfort when your abdomen stretches from gas or stool. Poorly coordinated signals between the brain and the intestines can make your body overreact to the changes that normally occur in the digestive process. This overreaction can cause pain, diarrhea or constipation.
Triggers vary from person to person:
Stimuli that don’t bother other people can trigger symptoms in people with IBS — but not all people with the condition react to the same stimuli. Common triggers include:
- Foods. The role of food allergy or intolerance in irritable bowel syndrome is not yet clearly understood, but many people have more severe symptoms when they eat certain things. A wide range of foods has been implicated — chocolate, spices, fats, fruits, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, milk, carbonated beverages and alcohol to name a few.
- Stress. Most people with IBS find that their signs and symptoms are worse or more frequent during periods of increased stress, such as finals week or the first weeks on a new job. But while stress may aggravate symptoms, it doesn’t cause them.
- Hormones. Because women are twice as likely to have IBS, researchers believe that hormonal changes play a role in this condition. Many women find that signs and symptoms are worse during or around their menstrual periods.
- Other illnesses. Sometimes another illness, such as an acute episode of infectious diarrhea (gastroenteritis) or too many bacteria in the intestines (bacterial overgrowth), can trigger IBS.
Many people have occasional signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, but you’re more likely to have IBS if you:
- Are young. IBS tends to occur in people under age 45.
- Are female. Overall, about twice as many women as men have the condition
- Have a family history of IBS. Studies suggest that people who have a family member with IBS may be at increased risk of the condition.
- Have an emotional issue. Anxiety, depression, a personality disorder and a history of childhood sexual abuse are risk factors. For women, domestic abuse may be a risk factor as well
The influence of family history on IBS risk may be related to genes, shared factors in a family’s environment or both.
Diarrhea and constipation, both signs of irritable bowel syndrome, can aggravate hemorrhoids. In addition, if you avoid certain foods, you may not get enough of the nutrients you need, leading to malnourishment.
But the condition’s impact on your overall quality of life may be the most significant complication. These effects of IBS may cause you to feel you’re not living life to the fullest, leading to discouragement or depression.
Drink water and herbal tea such as peppermint and fennel.
Beverages should be neither cold nor hot
Foods to Eliminate
Dark meat poultry
Any battered and deep-fried food
Any skillet-fried food in fat of any kind
All oils, fats, spreads, etc.
Solid chocolate (baking cocoa powder is fine)
Solid carob (carob powder is fine)
Nuts and nut butters
Croissants, pastries, biscuits, scones, and doughnuts
Potato chips (unless they’re baked)
Corn chips and nachos (unless they’re baked)
Store-bought dried bananas (they’re almost always deep fried)
Easy Tips & Tricks
Eat smaller portions frequently, calmly, and leisurely
Fat should be limited to 25% of the diet
Eat soluble fiber first whenever your stomach is empty
Chew thoroughly. This will help prevent you from eating too fast and swallowing air, which can cause problems.
Eat at a leisurely pace – if you must eat in a hurry, serve yourself half portions.
Eat small portions of food, and eat frequently – the emptier your stomach is, the more sensitive you will be.
Avoid eating large amounts of food in one sitting as this can trigger an attack
Avoid ice-cold foods and drinks on an empty stomach. Cold makes muscles contract, and your goal is to keep your stomach and the rest of your GI tract as calm as possible.
Avoid chewing gum, as it causes you to swallow excess air, which can trigger problems.
Drink fresh water constantly throughout the day (not ice cold). Limit the amount of water or other fluids you drink with your meals, as this can inhibit digestion.
Only eat green salads – tiny portions, non-fat dressing – at the end of the meal, not the beginning (tell people you’re French).
Peel, skin, chop and cook fruits and vegetables; mash or puree beans, corn, peas, and berries. Finely chop nuts, raisins and other dried fruits, and fresh herbs. Nuts in particular can be quite tolerable when finely ground. To keep dried fruit from sticking to your knife when chopping, spray the blade with cooking oil first.
Soluble Fiber Foods ~ the Basis of the IBS Diet
As a general rule, the grain and cereal foods at the top of this list make the safest, easiest, and most versatile soluble fiber foundations for your meals and snacks.
Pasta and noodles
Fresh white breads such as French or sourdough (NOT whole wheat or whole grain)*
Squash and pumpkins
Avocados (they do have some fat)
Papayas (also digestive aids that relieve gas and indigestion)
IBS is a common treatable condition and we can help. Call today 818-788-8242