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What Is IBS: A Beginner’s Guide

By WeTheTrillions TeamFeb 13, 2020

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is more common than you may think, affecting between 25 and 45 million people in the United States.

It’s a chronic condition that affects the way the GI system works, with some describing IBS as a brain-gut disorder. While the condition is not life-threatening, IBS can have a significant impact on the quality of life and may cause people to miss a substantial amount of workdays.

The symptoms of IBS are different for every patient, and individual bouts can last for days or even months. The symptoms include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Bloating

Although you may only think of IBS as one condition, there are actually three different subtypes:

  • Constipation predominant IBS, or IBS-C: Patients with this condition are prone to constipation or hard stools. They may also experience stomach pain.
  • Diarrhea-predominant IBS, or IBS-D: This subtype causes loose, watery stools. People with this condition may also feel a need to use the restroom frequently.
  • Mixed or IBS-M: Patients with this condition will have alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea.

What Causes IBS?

While the root of some IBS cases are food poisoning and others are unknown, several factors can amplify symptoms such as stress, being a woman, oversensitive nerves, or lifestyle habits. If you have a family history of IBS, then you may be more likely to develop it.

Some lifestyle habits may also contribute to the condition and exacerbate symptoms. We’ll look at those later in the article.

How is IBS diagnosed?

For IBS-D and IBS-M, a blood test has been developed by Dr. Pimentel that measures elevated antibodies and reach a diagnosis in most cases. In many cases, IBS diarrhea and mixed are developed after food poisoning, even years afterward.

For IBS-C and those who score negative on the blood test but IBS is still suspected, a doctor will diagnose the condition by taking your medical history and, if necessary, carrying out an examination. Your doctor will usually use a set of criteria to come to the diagnosis.

Your doctor may order some of the following tests:

  • Blood tests to see if there is an underlying infection that could cause your symptoms.
  • Stool tests.
  • Your doctor may also feel it’s necessary to carry out more comprehensive tests. This may mean:
  • A colonoscopy to rule out other conditions that may cause similar symptoms, such as colon cancer or celiac disease.
  • X-rays.
  • C-scan.

As well as imaging tests, your doctor may order some laboratory tests, such as:

  • Lactose intolerance tests.
  • Bacterial breath tests.
  • Upper endoscopy tests.

Treating IBS

There is no cure for IBS, but there are clinically proven ways of managing your condition. This may involve medication or lifestyle changes. As you’ll read later, stress is a major contributor to IBS symptoms, so your doctor may suggest introducing a relaxation program to retrain the communication between your gut and your brain. Some additional lifestyle changes could include:

  • Getting more exercise.
  • Getting more sleep.
  • Giving up tobacco and alcohol.
  • Following a low fat, high-fiber diet.

If these simple lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your doctor might suggest you try medications. The medicine you’re prescribed will vary depending on your type, but here’s a list of the most common ones:

For IBS-D, the most commonly prescribed medications include:

Your doctor may also suggest additional fiber supplements or laxatives.

For IBS-C types, your doctor may prescribe:

For stomach pains, you may find a natural approach like peppermint oil useful. If the pain is more severe, your doctor may prescribe antispasmodics or antidepressants.

Changing Your Diet

Although the foods you eat don’t lead to the development of IBS, some may worsen the symptoms by exacerbating distention and bloating. The food triggers may differ from person to person, so it’s often suggested that you keep a food diary to see if you spot any patterns and share it with your doctor.

In your diary, you can record what you’ve eaten, any symptoms you may have, and any symptoms you experience after eating certain foods.

When you revisit your food diary, you may find there are some common food groups that can make IBS symptoms worse. While you should cut out foods you find to be triggering, it’s also important that you maintain a balanced diet with a good mix of vitamins and minerals for your overall health. It is important to work with your doctor not only to eliminate foods but build them back in when possible, or finding a nutritionally appropriate alternative because many of the most common “triggering foods” for IBS (garlic, onion, prebiotics in vegetables) are vital for microbiome health.

If cut out for too long, people with IBS become susceptible to secondary conditions like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), leaky gut, and more.

And remember, it’s not just about what you eat, but also how you eat. Some people with IBS find that eating smaller meals throughout the day helps limit cramping and other common stomach problems, which is why here at WeTheTrillions offers both full meals and snacking options.

Finally, while you’re focusing on your diet, don’t forget to look at what you are drinking. You may find that carbonated sodas and caffeinated drinks can make your symptoms worse. Instead, try to drink up to eight glasses of water a day.

One of the biggest things to keep in mind with dietary changes: It’s best to plan ahead. It can be difficult to start a new diet and stick with it if you don’t understand how you’ll integrate the changes into your life. Below are a few things to think about when getting ready to implement some dietary changes:

  • Get rid of foods that trigger your IBS symptoms. This list will likely come from your food diary that you discuss with your doctor.
  • Create a list of go-to foods that will ensure you get the nutrients you need.
  • Consider opting for an IBS-focused meal delivery program that can take the guesswork out of what foods will help alleviate your symptoms.

Focus on Rebuilding your Gut Microbiome with Food

A very specific intervention for immediate relief that your doctor may suggest is following a low FODMAP or Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, And Polyols diet for 6-8 weeks. In short, the low FODMAP diet was designed as a “band-aid” for temporary relief of symptoms, but it is not designed to heal the gut. Why? Because the diet eliminates all too important prebiotic and fiber rich foods such as onions, garlic, and legumes, and reduces microbiome diversity. Fiber is critical to decrease bloating, pain, and other symptoms of IBS, though it is important to work them in slowly.

To begin healing the gut from IBS, it is important to build up microbiome diversity. Start by removing triggers such as dairy and gluten for one month, and getting tested for celiac’s disease and gluten sensitivity. A leading gastroenterologist treating IBS in Long Beach reports 50% of patients experience total resolution of symptoms at this point.

If symptoms are not resolved after eliminating dairy and gluten, there is likely an underlying cause and it is important to find and treat (hormonal, bacterial infection, fungal, etc.). In the meantime, eliminate gut-compromising foods that do not increase microbiome diversity, such as animal products, alcohol, refined sugar, refined oil, and environmental toxins. To build up the microbiome, focus on cooked starchy fruits and vegetables, and simple carbohydrates. As you improve, you can start adding in sprouted legumes, nuts, and seeds that have more fiber, then whole grains and fermented foods.

Although a microbiome-building protocol is based on common low-risk best practices, it’s best to speak with your doctor first before starting a big change like a low FODMAP diet, and at WeTheTrillions, we work will ensure you get in touch with the best-trained clinicians to ensure you get meals tailored specifically to help with their symptoms and tackle their root causes. You can review what some of those options look like here.

Reducing diarrhea

Dietary changes are another way that those with IBS can reduce diarrhea. The following diet-specific tips are recommended to reduce diarrhea:

  • Avoid chocolate, fried foods, alcohol, caffeine, carbonated beverages, products with sorbitol (found in sugarless chewing gum), and fructose.
  • Eat soluble fiber, which is often found in chia seeds, oat bran, barley, fruit flesh, along with navy, pinto, and lima beans.
  • Drink water an hour before or after meals rather than while you eat. Drinking during meals causes the food to move through your digestive system quicker.

Reducing constipation

Another IBS symptom that can be helped with a slight shift in diet is constipation. If you are suffering from constipation, the following tips are recommended:

  • Meet minimum daily fiber requirements (25 grams for women, 38 grams for men).
  • Slowly increase your intake of high-fiber foods like whole-grain bread, cereals, fruits, vegetables, and beans.
  • Try incorporating dried plums, prune juice, and ground flaxseed into your diet.
  • Avoid alcohol, coffee, carbonated drinks, and processed foods such as cookies, chips, and white bread and rice.

Nausea

Many IBS patients find they get nausea. If you’re one of them, it’s best if you get a medical opinion on the possible catalyst. If nausea continues, your doctor may prescribe anti-nausea tablets like Compazine and Compro to help relieve these symptoms.

Sleep problems

It’s fairly normal for people with IBS to have trouble getting a good night’s sleep. Over time, a lack of sleep can make you feel more stressed, and exacerbate your symptoms. Although, it is considered outside normal symptoms to experience nocturnal diarrhea and should be discussed with your doctor. Here are some tips for getting a better night’s sleep.

  • Set up a proper routine before bed. This can include dimming the lights and turning off technology.
  • Go to bed at the same time every night.
  • Wake up without an alarm clock and get up immediately after waking. This can help you get into a natural routine. If you feel you need an alarm clock, you may find a sunrise alarm clock useful. These clocks are designed to mimic the sunrise to wake you up in a more natural way.
  • Don’t drink caffeine after 2.00 pm and avoid alcohol close to bedtime.
  • A relaxing bath and a hot drink can also help you relax.
  • Melatonin supplements have also shown initial promise in some studies not only in helping improve sleep but in reducing IBS-D symptoms.

Reducing stress

We can all find ways to reduce stress in our everyday lives. Whether it’s learning not to take on more work than you can handle, cutting down on socializing, or getting into an organized routine, there’s something you can do to make your lifestyle less stressful overall.

Some further suggestions you may find helpful are:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Learn to manage time more effectively.
  • Make time for hobbies and interests.
  • Seek out social support when needed.

If these minor steps don’t work, there are more extensive programs that you could introduce. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be highly beneficial to people with IBS. According to research, a tailored CBT program can be more helpful than some medications for people living with IBS.

Meditation

Meditation takes different forms and has shown to be helpful for women with IBS. Whether you prefer breathing techniques or guided meditation, there’s something out there for you. You can choose from audio CDs, meditation cards, or a meditation app.

Progressive Muscular Techniques

This involves tensing and relaxing each of the major muscle groups. Sometimes this will start with your feet and work up to the head and facial muscles, or start with your upper body and work downward. You hold each muscle for a few seconds and then let it go. This technique can reduce overall body tension and is good to practice before bed. You can find instructions for it here.

Visualization

If you’re feeling stressed and tense, visualizing yourself in a relaxing setting like a beach, a tropical forest, or the countryside can help you unwind. You can find directions on how to do this by following the above link or simply create your own visualizations.

Traveling With IBS

Managing your IBS symptoms can be demanding enough in everyday life, but traveling can make management more of a challenge. One of the main reasons for this is because of the way your eating patterns may change while you’re traveling.

To make traveling easier, remember what works for you. You’ll know what contributes to your IBS, so avoid these triggers while you’re on vacation. This may mean having a slightly different routine to any of your travel buddies, but you have to do what works for you.

For instance, if you know late nights make your symptoms worse, then that may mean not joining your friends for later evenings.

Lifestyle and Dietary Changes Can Ease Your IBS Symptoms

As detailed in the article, IBS is a complex condition. It takes time and patience to figure out what will help you feel your best in large part because not every treatment works for every person. However, healthy dietary and lifestyle changes can go a long way to reducing your symptoms and making your IBS more manageable. In fact, your best course of action likely includes a healthy combination of some of the treatments listed above. Understanding what is “healthy,” though, these days can be tough because of confusing marketing labels, which is why we’re here at WeTheTrillions to help eliminate any second guessing. With the help of clinicians, we make and deliver delicious customized meals you can build healthy habits around—including ways to ease the side effects of IBS.

Simply put, we provide the insight, food, and customer service to help encourage a healthier lifestyle.

Want to learn more about how dietary changes can help ease your IBS symptoms? Start by taking our three-minute assessment.

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