Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition that makes life miserable to those it affects. Some estimates put the direct costs of IBS between $1.7-$10 billion in the United States each year. One study suggests that IBS costs patients $5,049 in out of pocket expenses annually, and 13.8 hours lost per 40 hour work week.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a proof that life is not always fair. While most people live their lives in relative harmony with their gut, IBS strikes victims with pain and discomfort at the worst of times, be it at work, in public or out with friends. Symptoms include:
- abdominal pain and discomfort
- irregular bowel movements
Eighty percent of IBS patients are women. And with 14% of the American population complaining of IBS symptoms, irritable bowel syndrome has serious implications, to the patient and the economy. Although irritable bowel syndrome rarely progresses into a dangerous condition, it may be a sign of another, more urgent illness. Coeliac disease, parasitic infections (like giardiasis) and several inflammatory bowel disease are not uncommon in IBS patients.
Four Triggers of IBS
IBS is a highly unique disorder. What sets off irritable bowel syndrome in one patient may
leave another unscathed. Having said that, some causes of IBS are more common than others:
- Lack of Hydrochloric Acid - Your digestive system is a delicate creature that requires an optimum balance of hydrochloric (stomach) acid and digestive enzymes. Without sufficient stomach acid, many IBS patients experience poor nutrient absorption, develop bacterial and protozoal infections and allergic reactions to partially digested food.
- Inflammation of the Gastrointestinal System - Another common IBS trigger, inflammation of the GI tract begins an ugly cycle of food allergies, fatigue, toxic substances leaking into the bloodstream and, notably, gas, constipation and diarrhea. Gotta love those.
- Stress - Studies suggest that up to 60% of IBS patients have a psychological disorder - often anxiety. And more proof that problems of the gut are linked to the brain: 95 per cent of the body's serotonin receptors are located in, you guessed it, the gut.
- Bad Bacteria - Your gut is home to naturally occurring bacteria. Some, like probiotics, are beneficial. Yet, when dangerous bacteria take over, bad things happen, including IBS. Down the road, dangerous bacteria can cause weight gain, chronic pain and perhaps even cancer.
Treatment for IBS
You can’t cure IBS, but you can minimize its symptoms as part of a comprehensive, long-term ongoing strategy, of the lifestyle, dietary, stress-related, medical and psychological factors that can cause irritable bowel syndrome. The two foundations for this strategy are:
- Maintain an open, long-term communication with your doctor, and
- Keep a journal of your IBS symptoms, and its triggers
While it’s tempting to think that diet is the leading cause of irritable bowel syndrome, a variety of factors can cause IBS, including stress, lifestyle habits, even psychological issues.
Healthy lifestyle habits can reduce IBS symptoms and make it bearable:
- Exercise – regular walking, running, swimming and other exercises can reduce stress and encourage regular bowel movements.
- Stress management – a common factor in irritable bowel syndrome is high levels of stress. Meditation, stress management and psychological intervention or counselling can reduce IBS symptoms.
- Medications – while there is no one-size-fits-all medical treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, some medications can alleviate specific symptoms. Stool softeners and laxatives can encourage comfortable bowel movements and prevent constipation. Oddly enough, some anti-depressants can reduce IBS symptoms, but consult with your doctor before pursuing this route.
The diet connection
Dietary management of irritable bowel syndrome is usually a case-by-case basis, as foods that can trigger IBS in one patient might not affect another, and there’s not enough evidence of foods that cause IBS to craft a generic diet. That said, some foods tend to trigger IBS more than others. Therefore, dietary treatment for irritable bowel syndrome might incorporate the following guidelines:
- avoid caffeine and alcohol
- limit intake of fatty foods
- limit dairy, fruit and artificial sweeteners (if constipation’s a problem)
- increase daily fiber intake to 20 grams
- avoid beans, cabbage and uncooked cauliflower and broccoli
Curiously, the countries with the highest rates of irritable bowel syndrome place a large emphasis on spicy foods in their diets. Mexico and Pakistan are among the nations with the highest reported cases of IBS, at 46% and 34% of their populations claiming IBS symptoms respectively. Considering this fact, those who suffer from IBS should consider consumption of mildly spiced food.
Irritable bowel syndrome is an ongoing, yet manageable condition. While it can cause pain and discomfort, remember that it’s rarely dangerous. Watch your triggers closely. Note your symptoms, talk to your doctor, and always seek medical advice if your symptoms change. Take notes, err on the side of caution, and use common sense. More likely than not, it’s not a life-changing problem, and with good planning and a bit of common sense, a minimal one at that.
Article courtesy of Digestive Science website