Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) isn’t a conversation most people want to have, but it actually affects between 25 and 45 million people in the United States. And IBS isn’t just frequent trips to the bathroom. It often entails abdominal pain and discomfort on a regular basis. 

CityHealth wants to start the conversation about IBS, inform and educate, and help people with IBS manage their symptoms. This article answers questions like what is irritable bowel syndrome? And if you have IBS and are looking for information and treatment, including what is the best diet for irritable bowel syndrome, this article is for you. 

What Is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic, incurable disorder characterized by stomach pain, bloating, and gastrointestinal complaints.  

There are three different types of IBS

 

  • IBS with constipation
  • IBS with diarrhea
  • Mixed IBS

 

With mixed irritable bowel syndrome, you might experience some or all symptoms associated with the other two types. IBS can range from mild to severe, and not everyone with IBS will experience the same symptoms. 

What Are the Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Knowing the symptoms of IBS is important. If you experience any of these symptoms frequently and unrelated to food poisoning or flu, it’s essential to speak to a medical professional

IBS with constipation is characterized by painful bloating, abdominal cramping, and gas. Symptoms of IBS with diarrhea include frequent uncomfortable or urgent need for a bowel movement as well as stomach pain. The intensity, duration, and frequency of these symptoms vary from person to person.

Less common symptoms of IBS with constipation or diarrhea include:

 

  • Muscle and/or joint pain
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Depression
  • Irregular menstrual cycle 
  • Frequent urination
  • Pain during sexual intercourse (for women)
  • Bad breath
  • Headaches

 

While most people find they can manage through diet and lifestyle changes, symptoms can be extreme or even debilitating in rare cases. If you develop any severe symptoms or your typical irritable bowel syndrome symptoms suddenly worsen, you should contact a medical professional. 

IBS can cause depression, often because people feel embarrassed or ashamed of their condition. If this sounds like you, you are not alone. Speak to a medical professional and consider joining an IBS support group to hear stories and find support with other individuals experiencing this disorder. 

What Causes IBS?

Although no one knows exactly what causes IBS, research has found several contributing factors

Brain-gut dysfunction can cause IBS. As its name suggests, this disorder is characterized by brain signals communicating improperly with your gut. This means your brain may not be effectively communicating with your gut and telling it how to perform. 

Visceral hypersensitivity can be a sensitivity to gut discomfort. People with visceral hypersensitivity will experience more discomfort in their abdomen than the average person and have a lower threshold for tolerating that discomfort. This heightened discomfort and pain can contribute to IBS. 

Finally, dysmotility is often linked to irritable bowel syndrome. Dysmotility is a condition that affects the muscles in the GI tract. When these muscles aren’t functioning properly, you can develop IBS. 

What Triggers Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Symptoms?

An irritable bowel syndrome flare-up might develop for many reasons, but two key triggers are responsible for the majority of exacerbated symptoms: food and stress. 

Avoiding stressful situations isn’t always possible, but there are ways to be proactive. Identify potentially stressful situations in advance and plan accordingly. Practice mindfulness meditations to mentally prepare and reduce your stress response. Some people find speaking to a mental health professional helpful in managing their IBS triggers. 

There are specific foods that tend to be more triggering for people with IBS (discussed below). You may find that some foods affect you more than others or not at all. Learning how to identify your triggers will help in managing your symptoms. 

How Do Doctors Diagnose Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Because IBS is a collection of symptoms, rather than one or more medical factors that can be tested, a medical professional diagnoses IBS by the symptoms reported and a medical exam. 

Your medical professional will ask you a series of questions about your symptoms and perform tests. These tests will help rule out other potential medical conditions and range from stool sample testing to anemia testing. 

In some cases, your medical professional may want to carry out a colonoscopy and/or CT scan of your pelvis. Often, your medical professional will ask about and test for food allergies that can cause symptoms similar to IBS. 

What Are Treatments for IBS?

IBS treatment varies from person to person. Because people often experience different IBS triggers, your treatment will depend on what triggers you and causes flare-ups. 

For some people, stress management is key to their treatment. For others, medication may be needed. And some people benefit from psychotherapy to deal with the emotional toll of the disorder. 

What most IBS treatments do have in common are dietary changes and restrictions. 

What Foods Should I Avoid With IBS?

Avoiding symptom-triggering foods is particularly important when it comes to managing your IBS. Acidic foods, foods high in saturated fats and processed sugars, and lactose can trigger an IBS flare-up. 

Other foods that you should try to avoid include: 

 

  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Dairy products
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Onions
  • Legumes
  • Tomatoes and tomato sauce
  • Spicy foods
  • Foods with high sugar and saturated fats

 

You might find that certain fruits and vegetables also exacerbate your symptoms. A good practice is to keep a detailed food diary and track associated symptoms. 

What Is the Best Diet for Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

There is no one size fits all diet for those with IBS. You might have to undergo some trial and error to figure out what works best.

High fiber diets work well if you need to alleviate constipation symptoms associated with IBS. Whereas a low fiber is great if you are on the other side of the IBS spectrum with frequent diarrhea, particularly if you are experiencing a flare-up. 

An elimination diet can help you determine which foods you should eat and which you shouldn’t. Eliminate one food at a time, so you can monitor how your body reacts. 

It can feel challenging to cut out well-loved foods but don’t despair. Focus on what you can eat, not what you can’t. For example, if dairy is a trigger, experiment with dairy-free alternatives to your favorite foods so you can enjoy your diet while eliminating IBS symptoms. 

Taking probiotic supplements can help promote a healthy microbiome in your gut. Multi-strain probiotics have been shown to reduce symptoms of IBS over time. 

Living With IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome can make an ordinary day uncomfortable and challenging. You might feel nervous about your symptoms acting up in public or around friends. Fortunately, you can find relief by creating a treatment plan that involves a healthy diet and lifestyle changes. 

The medical professionals at CityHealth can help you diagnose and treat your IBS symptoms, so you can get back to your normal life as soon as possible. At CityHealth, we focus on your comfort and privacy and getting you the treatment you need. 

Plus, we have an on-site imaging lab and a fully-equipped medical testing lab, so you can get your test results on-site. No waiting around or going to another clinic! 

Contact CityHealth today at (510) 984-2489 or book online at our San Leandro or Oakland location.