What is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal condition that can significantly impact quality of life. It is a chronic disorder of gut-brain interaction . It is estimated that 10 to 15% of people worldwide are affected by this condition and it seems to be more common among women than men.
What causes IBS?
Even though it’s a relatively common gastrointestinal disorder, IBS often goes undiagnosed. While the causes of IBS remain unknown it’s likely that there are many factors that play a role in its development. Some of these factors may include altered gastrointestinal motility, visceral hypersensitivity, intestinal permeability and alterations in the gut microbiota.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
IBS can cause a variety of abdominal symptoms and changes in bowel habits. The severity of IBS symptoms can vary from person-to-person and can change over time. Symptoms can include abdominal pain, bloating, distension, altered bowel habits, and excessive flatulence. Symptoms may wax and wane, which can contribute to a sense of fear and uncertainty around food and everyday activities.
IBS should be diagnosed by a medical doctor through examining past medical history, excluding other gastrointestinal diseases and by using the Rome IV criteria to assess symptoms and bowel habits. From there, working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in gut health can help to manage your symptoms through diet strategies.
Is there a cure for IBS?
While there is no cure for IBS, there have been significant improvements in the treatment options available. Therapies available for IBS management include:
Dietary Strategies like the FODMAP diet
- The FODMAP diet has been shown to improve symptoms in up to 70% of individuals with IBS.
- The FODMAP acronym stands for Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Monosaccharides and Polyols. FODMAPs are short chained carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine, traveling down to the large intestine where they are readily fermented by our gut microbiota creating gas. In individuals with a sensitive gut this can contribute to bloating, cramping and abdominal pain.
- Research has shown that the low FODMAP diet can improve symptoms related to IBS, such as bloating, gas, pain and improved bowel habits.
- The FODMAP diet should be completed with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in gastrointestinal disorders.
- As we learn more about the gut-brain connection and its role in IBS, psychotherapy techniques have been used and been shown to improve symptoms associated with IBS.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy aims to help individuals develop strategies for reducing stress, calming their body and coping with symptoms.
- Gut-directed psychotherapy is a form of hypnosis that addresses the miscommunication happening between the gut and the brain.
Medications and Supplements
- There are a wide range of medications available to aid in symptom management. Some of these medications include:
- Promotility agents which can help stimulate the bowels to “get things moving”.
- An antibiotic rifaximin has been an effective treatment option in some individuals with diarrhea predominant IBS through improving stool consistency and abdominal pain.
- Peppermint oil is a popular herbal remedy for IBS. It works by relaxing the intestine, which can help relieve abdominal pain.
Managing IBS symptoms through diet
There is no one-size-fits all approach when it comes to managing IBS symptoms. Each individual is unique and will need a personalized approach to best manage their symptoms. Nutrition and lifestyle strategies can be a great first step in managing IBS symptoms