Navigating a life with Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, is a chronic condition which presents itself as a group of symptoms that affect your gastrointestinal system. In other words, irritable bowel syndrome is not a disease; it is an uncomfortable and often unpleasant array of symptoms that occur in your lower intestines. You probably experience IBS as pain, cramping and bloating. These symptoms much occur at a high frequency for them to be considered irritable bowel syndrome and not just the result of something you ate.

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, irritable bowel syndrome has also been known as colitis, mucous colitis, spastic bowel, nervous colon and spastic colon. These terms indicate where the disorder typically occurs- the lower intestine and colon region. IBS is a functional disorder and even though you experience discomfort, no damage is occurring in your intestines.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms

If you suspect your child, or yourself, has IBS, consider the following checklist before speaking with your medical professional:

  • Abdominal cramping, bloating or pain
  • Change in stool consistency whether diarrhea or constipation
  • Passing mucus with your stools
  • Moving your bowels with more or less frequency
  • Reduced pain after having a bowel movement
  • Excessive gas
  • Having these symptoms three or more times a month for at least a three month cycle

The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome help to classify which type of IBS you have and help your physician decide on the best treatment. Based on the type of stool, your irritable bowel syndrome is classified into sub-categories. Your doctor will discuss this with you, but in general, if you are constipated 25 percent of the time, you have IBS-C. If you experience diarrhea 25 percent of the time, you have IBS-D. If you have a combination of both 25 percent of the time, you have IBS-M. If your stools do not have dramatic changes, yet you experience other symptoms, you may get an unspecified sub-type such as IBS-U.

Other Conditions

IBS should not be confused with other digestive tract disorders which is why it is important to schedule a doctor’s appointment for your child or yourself. If you experience other, more serious symptoms such as rectal bleeding, excessive weight loss or abdominal pain that progressively gets worse throughout the night, you may be dealing with more than IBS.

IBS is also a condition that partners with others. People, who suffer from Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia, typically suffer from IBS as well.

Risk Factors

Irritable Bowel Syndrome can affect anyone, but if your family has a history of IBS or other gastrointestinal disorders you may be more susceptible to IBS. Also, women are twice as likely to experience IBS, according to the Mayo Clinic. One reason for this is IBS appears to worsen in connection with reproductive hormones. People under 45 usually have more symptoms and mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression and a history of abuse, your raise your risk for developing IBS.

If you have a gastrointestinal bacterial infection, you are also at an increased risk for IBS. One of the main culprits are food sensitivities.

What Happens?

You can understand the signs, symptoms and risk factors for irritable bowel syndrome, but without understanding what is occurring in your body, still may struggle to grasp what IBS is.

IBS affects the muscles that line your intestinal tract. These muscles contract and release in rhythm to move food from your stomach, through your intestines and to your colon. When you have IBS, the rhythm gets interrupted. The contractions may speed up or slow down, which changes the consistency of your bowel, and leads to bloating and gas.

If you have any nervous sensitivity condition, such as fibromyalgia, you may feel more pain as the bloating and gas occur. The glitch can also be from a signal in your brain that is not connecting appropriately with the intestinal tract.

Identifying IBS

Most likely, your doctor will speak with you about your symptoms and make an IBS diagnosis. If needed, or if you have other symptoms such as a persistent fever, weight loss or family history of celiac disease or colon cancer, your doctor may order blood tests. Other medical tests that can help make the IBS determination by ruling out other severe conditions include a CT scan, colonoscopy, a stool test or a series of X-rays of your intestinal tract.

Once you have an irritable bowel syndrome diagnosis, you want to begin treatment for your symptoms. If you and your doctor are able to identify some of the reasons you have IBS, your treatments may include:

  • Additional daily fiber
  • Anti-spasmatic medication
  • Anti-depressants
  • Antibiotics
  • Laxatives
  • Anti-diarrhea medications
  • Adding probiotics to your diet
  • Counseling

If you are unable to identify the reasons for your irritable bowel syndrome, your doctor may recommend:

  • Eliminating certain foods
  • Reducing stress
  • Increasing exercise
  • Getting more sleep

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Foods to Avoid

Irritable bowel syndrome responds well when you eliminate certain foods from your diet. According to the Mayo Clinic, some foods produce an excessive amount of gas and should be avoided if you are experiencing discomfort. These foods are:

  • Raw fruits
  • Vegetables, especially cauliflower, cabbage, beans and broccoli
  • Carbonated drinks such as soda pop
  • Fiber-rich foods of which you consume more than 21 to 38 grams a day

Other foods that can trigger irritable bowel syndrome symptoms include:

Food Journal

One of the best ways to track which foods aggravate your irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, is to keep a food journal. Record everything you eat and also track your symptoms. This can help you select which foods to avoid when establishing your irritable bowel syndrome diet. You will need to make changes to improve your symptoms.

You may find that large meals upset your stomach, so switching to more frequent, smaller meals may be all the change in diet you require. Or, you may discover that milk-based foods or foods that contain lactose aggravate your condition and need to be eliminated from your diet.

Your diet for irritable bowel syndrome health should include lots of water to keep your intestinal tract flushed and healthy. Also, try to eat at the same times daily to reduce your chances of additional stomach discomfort.

If your child chews a lot of gum, it may be contributing to his IBS without knowing. Chewing gum allows excess air, gas, into the digestive tract, which can lead to discomfort. The same is true when drinking from a straw, so suggest to your child to switch to drinking from the milk carton, glass, or water bottle instead of risking inhaling air when drinking from a straw.

Making Changes

Unfortunately, IBS typically does not go away on its own. Since the cause is unknown, a cure is very difficult to find. You can manage your symptoms and take comfort from the fact that damage is not occurring to your intestinal tract. It is uncomfortable, but not life-threatening.

Try to increase your activity level to reduce stress, improve your mood and aid in moving foods through your digestive system. Increase your daily intake of fiber, under your doctor’s direction to maintain a more consistent stool. Foods that contain fibers are beans, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Drink lots of water and avoid carbonated and caffeinated drinks as these can worsen your symptoms.

Try eliminating foods to see if your symptoms improve and then gradually add the foods back into your diet. If your symptoms return, you may have to eliminate those foods permanently from your eating program.

Mindful exercises such as yoga and meditation may reduce your stress and help you gain control over your irritated bowel. Other sufferers have had small successes with hypnosis, massage, herbs and acupuncture, but speak with your physician for the best care for your body.

Living Life

Your irritable bowel syndrome diagnosis does not have to change who you are. You can still do all the activities you enjoy, but you do need to find a way to manage your symptoms. A support group can help and may offer alternative suggestions for relief. However, the most pro-active thing you can do is identify what triggers the IBS symptoms in you or your child and aim to eliminate those factors- whether it be stress, foods, or mental illness.

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