Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Do you suffer from abdominal pain, frequent bouts of diarrhea, or prolonged periods of constipation for no apparent reason? If so, you could have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common gastrointestinal (GI) disorder that affects up to 20 percent of Americans.

Also known as functional bowel disorder, IBS is not considered a disease because it doesn’t cause permanent damage or lead to serious illness, and it can usually be controlled with diet and lifestyle changes.

What causes IBS?
While the cause of IBS is unknown, it appears that abnormal muscle movement patterns in the GI tract and changes in the communication system between the brain and the GI tract may lead to the condition.

Irritable bowel syndrome is highly individualized: for some people, it is a chronic life-long condition, while for others symptoms may come and go in a day. There is no cure for IBS, but there are certain triggers that may vary from person to person. Some are emotional, such as stress, while others are food-related. Since the condition is more common in women, hormones may play a role, as well. Other triggers include certain medications, alcohol, smoking, and gastroenteritis.

How is IBS diagnosed?
Your doctor will diagnose IBS by process of elimination, that is, by ruling out other diseases or conditions with similar symptoms first. After reviewing your medical history and conducting a physical examination, your doctor may order blood tests, stool tests, and imaging studies such as a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy to determine a diagnosis.

How is IBS treated or managed?
Since there is no cure for irritable bowel syndrome, the best treatment is to learn how to manage the condition to relieve symptoms and minimize flare-ups. Treatments are different for everyone, depending on their triggers for IBS, but generally entail dietary changes, lifestyle changes, counseling, and medications. Dietary changes – Identifying your food triggers
By finding out what foods are your personal triggers, you can learn how to eat meals that are safe for your stomach. A food diary is helpful in figuring out what foods irritate your stomach. Track what you eat throughout the day and when you experience symptoms. Then eliminate certain foods from your diet one at a time and add them back in until you identify the culprit(s).

Common foods that may trigger IBS
The following foods are the ones most likely to cause IBS. While the list is extensive and includes many foods that are generally good for you, it is likely that only one or two foods are the ones causing your symptoms. Once you identify them, you can eliminate them from your diet completely.

  • Milk and dairy such yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, ice cream, frozen yogurt, and prepared foods that contain dairy (creamy soups and sauces, mashed potatoes, pudding, etc.)
  • Foods high in insoluble fiber such as wheat bran, high-fiber breakfast cereals, high-fiber breads, and whole wheat pasta
  • Raw and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts
  • Wheat (gluten) such as white and whole wheat breads, crackers, pasta, cereals, and baked goods
  • Sweeteners such as concentrated fructose (including sugar, honey, fruit juice, dried fruit, agave, or high fructose corn syrup) or a sugar alcohol sweetener like sorbitol, malitol, or mannitol
  • Fresh fruits that are naturally high in sorbitol like apples, pears, apricots, peaches, plums, prunes, cherries, and nectarines
  • Beans and lentils
  • Garlic and onions
  • Carbonated, caffeinated, and alcoholic beverages
  • Fatty foods and red meat
  • Chocolate
  • Condiments such as ketchup, pickle relish, soy sauce, chutney, and barbecue sauce

Lifestyle changes and medications
If you suffer from IBS, it is best to avoid cigarette smoking, caffeine products, and alcohol. Emotional stress or mental health issues can be addressed with counseling, medications, or both. Regular exercise can also help. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medication or prescription medication to relieve stomach spasms and diarrhea.

Learn more about irritable bowel syndrome in our patient education library.

At Total Family Healthcare & Wellness Centers, your doctor will help you recognize what triggers your IBS symptoms to best establish a treatment plan for you. To schedule an appointment, call our Clermont, Florida office at (352) 394-4237 or request an appointment online.

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