Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which affects about one in six people in the United States, occurs when muscles in the large intestine contract faster or slower than normal. This leads to abdominal pain, cramping, gassiness, constipation or – even worse – sudden bouts of diarrhea.
While the exact cause of IBS is unclear, Manojkumar Singh MD, a gastroenterologist at the TriHealth Digestive Institute, says that with the right lifestyle modifications, “most people are able to control symptoms.”
IBS: Why Me?
IBS can affect people of all ages, but it more commonly strikes teenagers and young adults. It’s also twice as common in women than in men.
Common triggers include stress, anxiety and depression. Sometimes infections can trigger IBS flare-ups. Certain foods, like dairy or caffeinated products may cause symptoms as well.
Ways to Manage Common IBS Triggers
Tip #1: Get the Right Diagnosis
First and foremost, it’s important to make sure you do in fact have IBS, so you can treat it appropriately. This condition often masquerades itself as ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease or even lactose intolerance, because the symptoms are so similar.
IBS Symptoms vary, but commonly include:
- Cramping pain in your lower abdomen
- Bloating and gas
- Diarrhea or constipation, or bouts of both
- Immediate need to move your bowels when you wake up, or during or after meals
- Relief of pain after bowel movements
- Feeling of incomplete emptying after bowel movements
- Mucus in your stool
Tip #2: Avoid Ingredients That May Cause Flare-Ups
Diet plays a major role in IBS. “Some patients are allergic to certain foods,” Dr. Singh points out. For this reason, he suggests keeping a food diary to determine which foods cause the onset of symptoms. Foods or ingredients that are likely to cause flare-ups include:
- Fatty foods
- Artificial sweeteners (Splenda or Sweet ‘N Low)
- Chemical additives
- Red meat
- Dairy products (milk, cheese or sour cream)
- Carbonated Beverages
- Gluten (found in wheat and barley)
Tip #3: Add More Fiber
Sometimes adding more fiber, like fruits, vegetables, beans and whole-grains, to your diet may help. While fiber can improve constipation, it may make bloating and gassiness worse, however.
Tip #4: Get Active
Regular physical activity may help control or stave off IBS symptoms, because it helps relieve physical and mental stress, which are common IBS triggers.
Tip #5: Try Medications
When lifestyle medications don’t work, your doctor may suggest taking one or more medications. “Each patient is different," Dr. Singh explains. "We just see what the symptoms are and treat them either with antispasmodics, probiotics, antibiotics or antidepressants.”
Sometimes therapy may help for those who have severe anxiety or depression-induced IBS.