Are you having stomach issues lately? Maybe you wonder if it is something more serious. IBS or irritable bowel syndrome is very common in America. According to Focus Medica, more than three million cases are diagnosed every year in the United States. Despite having no cure, there are treatments depending on your type of IBS. This chronic gastrointestinal disorder is more common in women and those over 50 years of age and mainly affects the large intestine. Do you think you have irritable bowel syndrome? Keep reading to learn more about this irritable bowel syndrome, its symptoms, causes, and what you can do to help manage it.
40. What is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome, better known as IBS, is a condition that many people have heard of, but few understand (unless they have had to learn about IBS from necessity). IBS is a condition characterized by bloating, cramping, gas, diarrhea, and constipation; untreated, it can cause problems that interfere in people’s daily lives. Everyone experiences these symptoms at some point or another. So, keep in mind that having diarrhea once in a while does not mean that you have irritable bowel syndrome(via Self). IBS occurs when these symptoms are persistent to the point of being disruptive (via WebMD).
39. IBS is the Most Common of Gastrointestinal Disorders
If you think you may have IBS or have been diagnosed, you are in good company. IBS is the most common gastrointestinal disorder in the country, with about 12 percent of the population diagnosed (via Self). With a condition so common, you can expect plenty of research and proven treatments to help you manage your symptoms. Most people can manage their symptoms without significant intervention, and only a few out of the 12 percent of Americans have severe irritable bowel syndrome (via Mayo Clinic).
You experience symptoms of IBS in the large intestine, but the condition is not entirely based there. As a functional GI disorder, IBS is caused by difficulties in how the large intestine interacts with the brain (via Cleveland Clinic). As a result, challenges with mental health, including excessive stress and depression, can trigger IBS. Some people can manage their IBS by reducing stress and treating depression, while others need to pay more attention to what they eat (via National Institute of Health).
IBD, or inflammatory bowel disease, is not the same thing as IBS, even though the names are almost identical, and the symptoms can be confused with each other. IBD refers to several inflammatory bowel diseases that include ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease (via Healthline). In ulcerative colitis, symptoms include ulcers and inflammation in the large intestine. In Crohn’s disease, the person experiences inflammation, usually in the small intestine (via Self). However, it can occur anywhere in the digestive tract.
When someone experiences IBD, the immune mistakenly attacks the microbiome or collects mostly good bacteria located in the gut. This immune reaction triggers chronic inflammation, and over time, the result can be damage to the digestive tract (via Self). With IBS, symptoms are unlikely to lead to long-term damage, making the prognosis over time much better. Suppose you were concerned that there might be long-term complications regarding your IBS diagnosis. In that case, you can rest easy with the knowledge that, as long as you manage the condition, you are unlikely to experience damage (via Mayo Clinic).
IBS is not one thing in particular but a constellation of similar symptoms that many people experience. Researchers have identified several kinds of IBS, so people who receive a diagnosis need to pay attention to their type (via Self). The symptoms that they experience and the treatment that is most likely to be effective will depend on the kind of IBS. If you have IBS, then for the best results, talk with your doctor about a treatment plan tailored to your symptoms (via Healthline).
About 30 percent of people with IBS experience IBS-C, meaning that their symptoms typically include hard stools that are difficult to pass (via Self). Constipation is usually caused by the bowels not contracting strongly enough, so the stools sit in the bowel longer. Over time, water is pulled out, making them hard. IBS-C is IBS in which one one-quarter of days those symptoms are present. The primary symptom is constipation, and symptoms include diarrhea on fewer than one-quarter of days (via Mayo Clinic).
As the name suggests, a diagnosis of IBS-D is one in which the primary symptom is diarrhea. Everyone experiences diarrhea at some point, but chronic diarrhea that leaves you constantly rushing to the bathroom indicates that you may be dealing with IBS-D (via Self). Forty percent of people with IBS have IBS-D. That means they experience diarrhea on at least 25 percent of days that have symptoms and have constipation on less than 25 percent (via WebMD). Diarrhea results when the digestive tract contracts too much, causing stool to pass through so quickly that there is not enough time to absorb the excess water.
If you are one of the lucky few to experience diarrhea in the morning and constipation in the afternoon, then you may have IBS-M (via Self). IBS-M may be the most difficult one to manage, as the unpredictable schedule of diarrhea and constipation can cause challenges in figuring out what you should eat and when you may have to hit the bathroom (via WebMD). The most important thing is not trying to treat symptoms on your own and following a treatment plan laid out by your doctor.
Some people develop irritable bowel syndrome following a severe gastrointestinal illness, such as food poisoning or norovirus. While the symptoms are often the same as IBS-M, the critical difference is that post-infectious IBS has a different cause and treatment (via Self). If you had a severe GI illness and mainly got better but then experienced persistent difficulty going to the bathroom, you may have post-infectious IBS (via WebMD). Make sure that you are clear with your doctor about when your symptoms began so that the diagnosis and treatment can be as specific as possible.
IBS is more than just GI upset that you may experience from time to time. The symptoms are common enough that everyone is bound to experience them at one point or another. Diarrhea and constipation may be the symptoms most readily associated with IBS. There are also bloating and abdominal cramps, along with gas, which can cause additional discomfort (via Cleveland Clinic). Experiencing these symptoms does not mean that you have IBS. However, having them persistently over an extended amount of time is a reason to talk with your doctor (via Healthline).
If you are persistently experiencing symptoms of IBS, you may want to try to treat those symptoms on your own (via Self). For example, if you experience diarrhea or constipation regularly, you may want to take anti-diarrheal medication or laxatives to experience relief constantly. However, if you have IBS, there is likely a larger cause at play. Why? Because IBS results from disruptions in the communication between the brain and the bowel. Instead, your best course of action is to contact your doctor and follow the prescribed treatment plan (via WebMD).
Researchers are not entirely sure what causes irritable bowel syndrome, though some factors come into play. Genes, medications, diet, childhood stress, severe infection, and disruptions in the microbiome all seem to play a role (via Mayo Clinic). Nevertheless, there is not enough understanding of the causes of IBS for there to be a proven way to prevent it. The best course of action is to not fixate on the cause unless you have post-infectious IBS in which the cause is clearer, and instead focus on treatment (via Cleveland Clinic).
Any medical condition has clear diagnostic criteria that must be met for diagnosis and treatment by a medical professional. According to the National Institute of Health, the diagnostic criteria for IBS includes having symptoms at least one day per week for the past three months and symptoms being present for at least the past six months. If you have been experiencing symptoms for more than a couple of weeks, begin keeping a journal that you can show your doctor to report your symptoms more accurately (via the National Institute of Health).
You can’t just walk into your doctor’s office because you had diarrhea last week and expect to receive a diagnosis of IBS (via the National Institute of Health). The doctor cannot diagnose IBS unless you have been experiencing symptoms for at least six months and have had them at least one day per week for the past three months (via Mayo Clinic). By that time, your symptoms will have become disruptive to your daily life, maybe having you running to the bathroom every hour at work and unable to participate in social functions because you don’t know where the bathroom will be.
There can be many reasons why someone experiences abdominal pain, and only one of them is IBS. If you regularly experience abdominal pain, go on and make an appointment with your doctor, who may refer you to a gastroenterologist (via Mayo Clinic). You may have irritable bowel syndrome, or you may have something else that needs proper diagnosis and treatment. There can be other causes, especially for severe and sudden abdominal pain (via Cleveland Clinic). If you are in so much pain that you cannot stand up, call 911.
Let’s face it, you probably turn around and check your poop in the toilet before flushing. Moreover, doing so is a good thing because your poop says a lot about your health, especially colon health. If your poop has a whitish layer on top, the last thing you may be thinking is that you want to share this information with someone, even your doctor (via Mayo Clinic). However, especially if this is happening regularly and you have other symptoms, you want to make a note and schedule an appointment (via Cleveland Clinic). You just may have IBS.
If you constantly feel full, even when you have not eaten, you are probably experiencing bloating. Bloating is another symptom of IBS, so if you have noticed that you have other symptoms besides regular bloating, you will need to check in with your doctor (via Mayo Clinic). Bloating on its own is pretty harmless, albeit uncomfortable (and, in some people, can lead to sharp, stabbing pains). However, if bloating happens regularly, you want to make an appointment with your doctor. Why? Because it is probably a sign of something that you need treatment for something, such as IBS (via Cleveland Clinic).
22. You Will Have Persistent Diarrhea or Constipation
The primary diagnostic criteria for IBS is persistent diarrhea and/or constipation (via Cleveland Clinic). If you regularly experience both on the same day, nobody needs to tell you that something is wrong and that you should talk with your doctor! One or two bouts of diarrhea or constipation are probably nothing to worry about, although you will not enjoy the experience! Nevertheless, if you are experiencing one or the other (or both) regularly, keep tabs in a journal (via Mayo Clinic). Then, you can show the journal to your doctor. See, journaling is fun!
You can handle the bloating and the mucous in your poop, but the one symptom of IBS that no one wants to have to deal with is excessive gas (via Mayo Clinic). If you are constantly playing the butt trumpet so much that you dread going to social events, your thought maybe that you need to eat fewer beans and stop putting sauteed broccoli in your morning omelets. Whether or not you think that farting a lot means you should visit your doctor, if you have excessive gas along with other symptoms, you need to make an appointment (via Cleveland Clinic).
At first, you may be tempted to start taking Bean-o with your daily vitamins and maybe add in a stool softener if you are constipated or something to stop the runs if you have diarrhea. However, if you have irritable bowel syndrome, one of the worst things you can do is self-medicate because you are not treating the underlying cause and could make things worse (via Mayo Clinic). Suppose you have persistent symptoms that do not go away, talk to your doctor. If you do have IBS, you will receive a treatment plan that you should follow (via Cleveland Clinic).
19. Your Doctor May Try to Determine the Cause of Your Symptoms
Some people experience symptoms of IBS because they are continually eating foods that they should not, maybe because they have an intolerance to those foods (via Self). Other people experience the same symptoms because their lives are so flooded with stress that their bodies are struggling to cope. If your doctor diagnoses you with IBS, you can expect a conversation to determine why you have these symptoms. Your doctor will then put together a treatment plan to address the cause, not just the signs (via WebMD).
If you have been struggling with IBS symptoms long enough to receive a diagnosis, then you may not have been out for some exercise for a long time for fear of triggering intestinal movement and not being able to get to a bathroom in time. Nevertheless, your treatment for IBS likely will include exercise because it may improve just about all symptoms (via WebMD). Activity is one of the most powerful remedies there is, and if you are also working on getting your symptoms under control through diet and maybe medication, you should be able to exercise just fine (via Self).
17. If You Smoke, Your Doctor Will Recommend That You Stop
While there is a lack of formal research studies into the topic, there is anecdotal evidence that smoking makes symptoms of IBS worse (via WebMD). In some people, smoking seems to trigger excessive movement in the bowels, leading to diarrhea. In others, smoking appears to lead to less movement, causing constipation (via Self). Whatever the case may be, smoking is terrible for you and leads to more health problems than can possibly be listed here. If you smoke and have irritable bowel syndrome (or even if you don’t have IBS), make a plan to quit right away.
Your doctor may run some tests to determine if you have food intolerances or allergies that may be triggering irritable bowel syndrome symptoms (via Self). They may also ask you about what you usually eat during the day and recommend keeping a food journal to track what you eat and when your symptoms appear. If your IBS seems to be food-related, you can expect to need to make dietary changes to manage your symptoms. If you have constipation, you may need to add more fiber, whereas if you have diarrhea, you may need to make other changes (via WebMD).
Suppose stress triggers your IBS symptoms. In that case, an essential aspect of your treatment plan will be getting the anxiety under control (via WebMD). You may need to start working with a therapist to help you learn strategies for managing your emotions in ways that are more productive and conducive to a healthy lifestyle. You may also need to de-clutter your life by getting rid of activities and relationships causing stress. Getting daily exercise is one of the best ways to help your body heal from the adverse reactions associated with stress (via Self).
While you are learning to manage your IBS and still trying to get your symptoms under control, your doctor may prescribe medication to help get things stabilized. Keep in mind that medicines in themselves are rarely enough to treat IBS effectively (via WebMD). It is most effective when combined with lifestyle changes, such as those described above. The type of medication that your doctor prescribes will depend on the type of irritable bowel syndrome. Make sure you are clear about any other drugs, vitamins, and supplements you take because they can lead to adverse reactions when taken in combination (via Self).
13. Some People are at Higher Risk of Developing IBS
Researchers do not know exactly what causes irritable bowel syndrome. As described above, it is a functional gastrointestinal disorder, meaning challenges in connections between the brain and the gut cause it (via Cleveland Clinic). In some people, IBS is triggered by stress, while in others, it is problems with diet. In some people, acute infections can trigger IBS. While there is no clear indication of the exact cause of IBS, some groups of people certainly seem to be at higher risk for developing it (via Mayo Clinic).
As with just about any other illness, everything from cancer to heart disease to diabetes and beyond, if you have a family history of IBS, you are more likely to develop it (via Cleveland Clinic). There may be a genetic component that makes some people predisposed to the condition, whether or not they have any other risk factors. However, genetics does not tell the entire story because many people develop IBS and have no family history of the condition (via Mayo Clinic).
11. Another Risk Factor is Severe Trauma, Including Abuse
A rapidly increasing body of research shows that stressful childhood events disrupt the body’s stress-response system, leading to physiological changes that can last for a lifetime (via Mayo Clinic). These changes can predispose people with no other risk factors to severe chronic illness, one of them being IBS. The bad news is that you have a history of trauma and abuse, especially if it occurred as a child, you are at a higher risk of developing IBS. The good news is that a care team can help you manage the physiological symptoms by improving your mental health (via Cleveland Clinic).
Suppose you have a high-stress lifestyle, suffer from chronic anxiety, or have just been through a lot in the past few months. You are at a greater risk of developing IBS (via Mayo Clinic). If you see your doctor to talk about your symptoms, make sure you are clear about when they started. Furthermore, if you think they relate to a particularly stressful life event. If so, your treatment plan will focus more on reducing and managing the stress in your life (via Cleveland Clinic). One of the best things you can do for IBS may be to focus on your relationships with the people you love.
Many people have food intolerances to things like dairy (lactose intolerance) and wheat (gluten intolerance), but so many other food intolerances can cause GI upset. If you have a food intolerance, you are more likely to develop IBS (via Mayo Clinic). Furthermore, your odds increase even more if you have a habit of eating those foods, even though you know that they will cause tummy trouble! Additionally, there seem to be some foods that trigger IBS more than others, so to better understand your symptoms, keep a food journal (via Cleveland Clinic).
If you have recently had a significant infection in your GI tract, including in your stomach or intestines, then you are at risk of developing post-infectious IBS (via Cleveland Clinic). If you are experiencing symptoms following a bout with illness, let your doctor know. This might be a particularly nasty stomach bug that flushed out your entire system in just a few hours. The disease was very likely the trigger for IBS. Your treatment will be different from someone who has other kinds of IBS (via Mayo Clinic).
7. And if You are Female, You Have Another Risk Factor
At least in the United States, most people who suffer from IBS are women. There is likely a hormonal component in determining whether or not someone will develop irritable bowel syndrome, as women who receive estrogen therapy are more likely to develop the condition. Menopause may not be a significant risk factor because most people who suffer from IBS are under 50 (via Cleveland Clinic). If you have undergone estrogen therapy and are experiencing symptoms of IBS, be clear with your doctor because the estrogen therapy may have triggered it (via Mayo Clinic).
IBS is a very treatable condition. However, if untreated, it can cause you to stay home constantly. Why? Because you are afraid of not knowing where the bathroom is or getting there on time. If you think you might have IBS, make sure you start talking with your doctor as soon as possible (via Self). That way, you can begin to follow a treatment plan the same day as diagnosis. Waiting until you are too anxious to leave the house will cause your mental health to deteriorate, leading to further problems (via Mayo Clinic).
If you are afraid of getting out of the house to spend an evening with friends or loved ones, your mental health will begin to suffer very quickly. Depression and anxiety can set in, making the symptoms of IBS even worse (via Cleveland Clinic). If you are struggling with mental health, whether or not it is related to an IBS diagnosis, talking to a therapist can help you get your life back on track (via Mayo Clinic).
Keeping a journal in which you maintain a log of what you eat, how much stress you are experiencing, when you are sick, and the symptoms you experience can be a powerful tool in treating and managing IBS (via Cleveland Clinic). Regularly share this journal with your doctor, who can help you use that information to help better you get your life back on track. IBS can be a distressing illness that causes far-reaching problems in your life, but it is very treatable (via WebMD).
3. 60 Percent of People with IBS Have a Psychiatric Disorder
This comorbidity — meaning conditions that coincide — raises some pretty serious questions about the relationship between IBS and mental health (via Self). There does seem to be a connection in which high levels of stress, especially associated with abuse and other forms of trauma, triggers IBS in the first place. Additionally, people with IBS are much more likely to experience depression and/or anxiety because of the illness’s toll on their lives (via WebMD).
Doing something fun that alleviates the stress in your life may be the best thing you can do to help manage IBS symptoms (via WebMD). If you are afraid to leave your house, watch a funny film and laugh as hard as you can. Group-watching a movie using a platform such as Disney Plus can be a great way to include a friend or loved one in on the fun, even if you are not physically together (via Healthline).
1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is Not a Death Sentence
Recurring diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and farting may sound like a death sentence, but IBS may be an invitation to restructure your life in a more meaningful way. Eliminating the foods causing your symptoms will probably improve your overall health because many of those foods are likely bad for you anyway (via Self). Getting rid of the stress in your life will only benefit you and give you the space to fill your time with the things that matter (via WebMD).