April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Month. During this month and always, we work together to raise awareness for IBS in order to impact those who experience this disorder positively. With education comes ending the stigma around IBS and other gastrointestinal ailments.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a functional gastrointestinal disorder that includes pain in the abdomen, changes in bowel movements, and no visible signs of damage in your digestive tract. Typically, IBS is caused by issues with how your brain and gut work together and these problems can cause gut sensitivity and irregularities in bowel contractions. About 12% of people in the United States experience Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

There are three different types of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and they include irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C), irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea (IBS-D), and irritable bowel syndrome with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M).

  • IBS-C is characterized by more than a quarter of your stools being hard or lumpy.
  • IBS-D is characterized by more than a quarter of your stools being loose.
  • IBS-M you experience a mixture of both.

Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Typically, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome vary but include:

  • Cramping
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating and gas
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • A sudden need to use the bathroom
  • Changes in bowel habits

In more severe cases, those with IBS may experience:

  • Frequent urination
  • Halitosis
  • Headache
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Irregular menses
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Painful sex
  • Persistent fatigue

These symptoms are generally not persistent and can resolve, only to return later. Women with IBS may experience worsened symptoms around the time of menstruation… and those who are menopausal may experience fewer symptoms than those who are still menstruating. Likewise, some women have reported that symptoms increase during pregnancy. While men are affected by the same symptoms of IBS, fewer men report their symptoms and seek treatment.

Triggers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS flare-ups can last for several days. Additionally, IBS is typically triggered by stress or anxiety and certain foods (which can be determined based on a food diary). IBS can also be affected by the immune system.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Causes

While the direct cause of IBS is unclear, factors that play a role in IBS development are diet, hormones, an inability of the central nervous system, unusual response to infection, and digestive organs with sensitivity to pain. Likewise, environmental and genetic factors, as well as hormonal changes, play a role too.

Risk Factors of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

You are more likely to experience irritable bowel syndrome if you:

  • Experience mental health issues like anxiety or depression.
  • Have a history of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse.
  • Experience gastroenteritis.
  • Have a family history of IBS.
  • Experience sleep disorders.
  • Have had estrogen therapy.
  • Are female.
  • Are young.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Treatment

Irritable bowel syndrome does not link to cancer. However, research associates IBS with mood disorders and poor quality of life, so that’s why it’s crucial that you take steps to treat IBS through means of management of anxiety and stress. Additionally, IBS treatment includes medications like antispasmodics, bulk-forming laxatives, antimotility medications, or tricyclic antidepressants. Likewise, dietary management is necessary to stave off IBS in the form of consuming oat-based foods, not skipping meals, and eating slowly and at the same time every day. Those with IBS should also treat symptoms by avoiding carbonated beverages and alcohol, and limiting your intake of certain fruits or vegetables.

IBS Prevention

While IBS is not completely curable, there are a number of ways to prevent and manage flareups. That said, of these, the most important is counseling and practicing mindfulness, which can help you reduce stress and anxiety.

Remember that if you have IBS, you are not alone. Knowing the signs and symptoms is the first step in managing your IBS. For more information, visit aboutibs.org.

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