What Is IBS?

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

We’ve all experienced bowel trouble at one time or another. But for some people, cramping, excess gas and loose stools (or not so loose stools) are all too common of an occurrence. If you suffer from these symptoms, you may have a condition called IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder and is not the same as IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease), which is a more serious condition and can cause more severe complications.

COMMON SYMPTOMS OF IBS

  • Abdominal pain or cramping (this goes away once you have a bowel movement)
  • Excess gas and bloating
  • Diarrhea, or constipation (sometimes people with IBS experience both)
  • Changes in stool consistency or frequency
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Loss of appetite

CAUSES AND TRIGGERS OF IBS

It’s not completely clear what causes IBS, sometimes referred to as spastic colon, but many experts believe that people with IBS simply have a more sensitive colon.  Things such as changes in your gut bacteria could have a greater effect on you than on others. Some experts also believe that the condition is a result of problems with brain-gut interaction, or how your brain and gut communicate with each other.

And, just like other conditions, such as overactive bladder, IBS has it’s own triggers.

While everyone’s trigger might be different, there are some common ones:

FOODS IN YOUR DIET:

Depending on your symptoms, different foods may be causing you problems. If you suffer from constipation, some foods, such as breads and cereals, processed foods, high-protein diets, and dairy products (especially cheese) can contribute to you symptoms. If you’re making more trips to the bathroom because of diarrhea, things like too much fiber, large meals, fried and fatty foods, and dairy products can be a problem. And for either symptom, you should avoid caffeine, alcohol, or carbonated beverages.

HOW YOU EAT

It’s not just what you’re putting in your body that can have an effect on you, but how you eat can also impact your IBS symptoms. Eating too fast, or with distractions (like eating while you work or drive) can increase symptoms of IBS. Make sure to eat slowly and without disruptions.

STRESS AND ANXIETY

Stressful life events, or even certain mental conditions such as depression, can bring on symptoms of IBS.  Learning ways to stay calm and manage stress can be helpful tools in managing IBS symptoms.

HORMONAL CHANGES:           

Many women with IBS often experience an increase in symptoms around their menstrual cycle (in fact, 70% of people who live with IBS are women). While you can’t prevent your menstrual cycle from happening, it may help to find ways to better manage your symptoms. Birth control pills can sometimes lessen the effects of your periods, which may also help with IBS symptoms.

NOT ENOUGH EXERCISE:

Simply put, exercise can keep things moving if you’re suffering from bouts of constipation. And, as a widely known way of banishing stress, it’s helpful in keeping you calm and stress free, which can eliminate another trigger of IBS symptoms.

RISK FACTORS FOR IBS

IBS is a common disorder affecting up to 20% of US adults. IBS is not an old person’s condition either – it strikes young, often occurring in people before turning 35). The majority of sufferers are female (70%).  While not proven to be hereditary, people who have had family members with IBS may be at a greater risk for developing the condition themselves. 

DIAGNOSING IBS

Diagnosis for IBS is typically done at a doctor’s office through blood tests. If you suspect you have IBS, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms, and get tested for a diagnosis.

TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR IBS

COUNSELING

If you suffer from a lot of anxiety, or have experienced a traumatic event, speaking with a counselor can help you work through some of those feelings and may help ease your IBS symptoms in the process.

DIET CHANGES

Making some changes to what you eat can have a big effect for some people experiencing IBS symptoms. Try eliminating some of the problem foods listed above to see if you experience any relief.

BIOFEEDBACK

This technique involves training your body to have more control over your bowels, and has been proven an effective tool in managing IBS symptoms. Learn more about biofeedback here.

MINDFULNESS

Practicing mindfulness meditation has been shown to result in a reduction of IBS symptoms. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment and has been thought to reduce stress and calm the mind. 

MEDICATIONS

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may be able to prescribe medication to help you manage. Fiber supplements or anti-diarrheal medications can help manage constipation and diarrhea, and antidepressant medications may help you manage symptoms of stress and anxiety, which are common triggers of IBS. There are also medications specifically approved by the FDA to treat certain symptoms of IBS.

IBS can be a very painful and debilitating condition for some people, and while it is not life-threatening, it is a long term condition that should be treated. Speak with your doctor about your symptoms and work with him or her to find a treatment option that works for you.

Patient Perspective: Marilyn's Story

Marilyn's Story, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

My mom has always had urgency issues. Growing up it seemed that almost anything she ate would result in a bathroom trip within the next 30 minutes.  And not just causal bathroom trips either – urgent, NEED TO GO RIGHT NOW, bathroom trips.  These were a constant source of frustration for our family – no one understood that it was something she couldn’t help. 

As I’ve grown older, I’ve experienced some of the same symptoms myself. The urgent needs to empty my bowels, occasional abdominal pains, daily bloating. Thinking that it was just something I inherited, and something that couldn’t really be fixed, I lived with those symptoms for years before casually mentioning it to my doctor during a routine check up.

I was surprised when he mentioned irritable bowel syndrome and after hearing the symptoms, was certain that it was what I, and likely my mother, suffered from for all those years.

After some tests, I was proven correct and he started me on a medication that has mostly erased the discomfort I used to feel on a daily basis.

My Mom has been gone for several years, and I hate that we never pushed her to talk to her doctor about this problem. Thinking back on all the pain and frustration she went through (and likely embarrassment and shame) feels like such a waste considering all that can be done to treat IBS.

But, while it may be too late for her to get treatment, I’m glad that I finally did speak up to my doctor and am not following the same path. Life is just too short to live every day with something that can be treated so easily.
 
Marilyn R., Indianapolis, IN

Ask The Expert: What's The Difference Between IBS And Crohn's Disease?

What's The Difference Between IBS and Crohns Disease

Each month, we ask our expert panel to answer one of our reader's questions. To learn more about the NAFC Expert Panel, and how to submit your own question, see below.

Question: What’s the difference between IBS and Crohn’s Disease? Could I have both?

Answer: While both of these conditions seem to have similar symptoms, they are in fact different, and, yes, it is possible for someone to have both at the same time. Here’s a quick breakdown of the two:

Crohn’s Disease is a chronic, inflammatory bowel disease that affects parts of the digestive tract. Symptoms often include diarrhea, a frequent need to move your bowels, stomach pain, and bloating (all symptoms of IBS). However, with Crohn’s disease, patients also may notice things like vomiting, tiredness, weight loss, fever, or even bleeding.  It’s not certain what causes Crohn’s disease, but most experts believe it is an abnormality in the immune system that can trigger the condition. Chron’s disease is also more common in those with a family history of the disease.

IBS (also called “spastic colon”) carries similar symptoms to Crohn’s disease – cue the diarrhea, frequent trips to the bathroom, and stomach pain.  However, treatment for Crohn’s disease and IBS are different so it pays to be examined for both so that you understand what is causing your symptoms and you can treat it appropriately.  Testing for both conditions can be done with a physical exam, blood test, and usually a colonoscopy or other type of endoscopy procedure.

If you experience any symptoms related to IBS or Crohn’s disease, make an appointment with your doctor today to get tested.

Are you an expert in incontinence care? Would you like to join the NAFC expert panel? Have a question you'd like answered? Contact us!

What I've Learned About IBS And How To Treat It.

IBS, Bowel Health, And How To Treat It

IBS, Bowel Health, And How To Treat It

I was fairly young when I first started having bowel trouble. A consistently nervous young woman, I was constantly in a state of worry – about school, boys, and friendships – pretty much the normal run of the mill high school concerns. My mother always said I had “nervous bowels”, and my family became accustomed to stopping frequently to use the restroom on trips, and always asking me if I had to go before leaving the house.  The pain I felt sometimes with bloating or cramping was attributed to my nerves.  And while my family was fairly sympathetic to my condition, I experienced a lot of eye-rolling growing up when my symptoms would strike (“We have to stop for Annette again?” my brother would say. “She just went!”) It was a normal occurrence that lasted into my college years, and then later as I started a family.  And while it was inconvenient and could definitely be painful at times – it wasn’t until after the birth of my first child that I thought about it as a “condition” that could actually be treated. 

IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, is when you have an overly sensitive colon or large intestine.  This may result in the contents of your bowel moving too quickly, resulting in diarrhea, or too slowly, resulting in constipation. (Both of which I have experienced, although my symptoms tend to lie more in the former camp, causing me to constantly race to the bathroom for fear of an accident).  Symptoms also can include cramping or abdominal pain, bloating, gas, or mucus in the stool. The condition is more common than you may think. As many as 1 in 5 American adults have IBS, the majority of them being women. And, this is not an old persons disease either – IBS strikes young, commonly in ages younger than 45.

I was finally diagnosed at age 28 – a whopping 13 years after I started experiencing symptoms, and I wish I had thought to seek help earlier.  My doctor told me that there are many things that can contribute to IBS. Things like hormones, certain types of food, and stress (I guess my mother was right) may all impact IBS symptoms.  Since the cause is of IBS is not known, treatments usually focus on relieving symptoms so that you can live as normally as possible. 

Below is a list of treatments my doctor discussed with me.

Behavioral Changes: 

Diet.  Many foods can trigger IBS. And, while they might not be the same for everyone, there are some common triggers that have been identified:

  • Alcohol

  • Caffeine (including coffee, chocolate)

  • Dairy products

  • Sugar-free sweeteners

  • High-gas foods, such as beans, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, raw fruits or carbonated beverages)

  • Fatty foods

  • FODMAPs (types of carbohydrates that are found in certain grans, vegetables fruits and dairy products)

  • Gluten

One of the first things I did when starting treatment was to keep a bowel diary, which tracked the foods I ate and how they effected me. This was a huge help in learning my food triggers.  I also learned to eat more frequent, smaller meals, which helped ease my symptoms. (Although those who experience more constipation may see improvement by eating larger amounts of high-fiber foods.)

Stress Management. This was a huge one for me.  It turns out, your brain controls your bowels, so if you’re a hand wringer like me, it may end up making you run to the bathroom more often than you’d like.  Learning ways to control stress was a game changer and I saw a huge improvement with these steps:

  • Meditation – Just taking the time to quite your mind can do wonders in helping you manage stress on a regular basis.

  • Physical Exercise – Regular exercise is a great de-stressor and, if you have constipation, can help keep things moving in that department too. I walk regularly and practice yoga 3 times per week to keep my stress at bay.

  • Deep Breathing Exercises – This is a great trick to practice if you feel yourself starting to get worked up. Practice counting to 10, while breathing in and out slowly until you start feeling relaxed.

  • Counseling – Sometimes you need someone to talk to help you work through your emotions. You may find comfort in talking with a friend or family member, or even a professional counselor, who can help you learn how to deal better with stress.

  • Massage – This one likely doesn’t need much explanation - who doesn’t love a good massage?

Drink Plenty Of Water. Drinking enough water just helps your body function better. And for people with IBS, it will ensure that everything moves more smoothly and minimize pain. This is especially true with those who suffer from constipation. 

Medications 

There are several different medications used to treat symptoms of IBS. Whether you suffer from constipation, or diarrhea, OTCs and prescriptions are available. Antibiotics are also sometimes prescribed for those patients whose symptoms are caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in the intestines. And if you suffer from anxiety or depression, like me, some antidepressants and anti-anxiety agents can actually improve your IBS symptoms too. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms and work with him or her to find a solution that’s best for you.

Other treatment options 

Acupuncture. Despite a lack of data on acupuncture and IBS, many patients turn to this method of treatment for pain and bloating. Acupuncture, which is usually performed by a licensed acupuncturist, targets specific points in the body to help channel energy flow properly.

Probiotics.  As research continues to emerge around the importance of gut bacteria and your overall health, probiotics may become a more common treatment option.  Consuming them can increase the “good” bacteria that live in your intestines and may help ease your symptoms. 

Hypnosis.  Hypnotherapy has been shown to improve symptoms by helping the patient to relax. Patients practicing hypnotherapy have reported improved quality of life, reduced abdominal pain and constipation, and reduced bloating. However, most of the time hypnotherapy is dependent upon a therapist, and is usually not covered by insurance plans, making it a costly form of therapy.

I’m 37 now and have had my IBS pretty much under control for the last several years. Looking back, I can’t believe I lived with it as “normal” for so long. If you suffer from this condition, there is simply no reason to not get it treated. 

Need help finding a doctor?  Use the NAFC Specialist Locator.

About the Author:  Annette Jennings lives in Oklahoma with her husband, 2 children, 2 dogs, and 1 cat. She's happy to be speaking up about her condition and hopes it will inspire more people to do so. 

Fecal Incontinence In The Bedroom

Fecal Incontinence In The Bedroom

Is fecal incontinence (FI) affecting your romantic relationships?

If you are single, do you avoid meeting new people, dating, or sex? If you're married, are you worried that your partner no longer finds you attractive? Dealing with incontinence during intimate moments can be a frustrating experience for both partners. Most of us have problems talking about sex at all, and talking about problems in the bedroom is just about impossible. It might be an uncomfortable conversation to have with your partner, but talking about Fecal Incontinence (FI) is the best way to gain the support and understanding needed to get back to enjoying your sex life again.

The causes of FI can include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, diarrhea and, for women, weakened muscles in the anus or rectum after childbirth. In most cases, incontinence is not a permanent condition, and will improve when the cause is treated. If incontinence is a long-term issue, then dealing with the problem directly and how it affects romance becomes even more important.

Talking about fecal incontinence with your healthcare provider.

The first step to improving your sex life will be to work with your doctor, or nurse practitioner, to explore the ways that you can treat the cause of the incontinence. Make sure your healthcare provider is aware that incontinence is affecting your romantic relationships and that you are interested in finding ways to treat the problem. This can be a difficult conversation so use the words you are most comfortable with and remember that your healthcare provider has heard about all of these problems before. The treatment of FI will depend largely on the cause. Your doctor or nurse practitioner may have some new suggestions for you once you have made him or her aware of your concerns.

Think about ways your sex life can be improved. If you're avoiding intimacy, obviously you'll want to get back to it! How can you and your partner work together to make your romantic moments more fulfilling for both of you? When is incontinence the most troublesome and how can you improve it so you can enjoy your sex life? If you find that incontinence is a problem during intercourse, perhaps exploring different positions or other forms of intimacy would be helpful. If avoiding intimacy is causing you emotional stress and worsening your symptoms, perhaps beginning to talk about it with your partner will help lower your stress level.

Discussing FI with your partner.

Now for the more difficult conversation: discussing how FI affects your sex life with your current or future partner. If your partner is not already aware of the condition that's causing the incontinence, you'll want to discuss it first. You can talk about all the ways your life is affected, including everything from your job to your feelings about your medical problems. Your partner may not be aware of the stress and difficulties you are having and that you are worried about how it's affecting your relationship.

Once you both have the whole picture in mind, you can move on to discussing how FI affects your intimate moments. Bring up the ideas you have on how you can be more comfortable being romantic. Your partner will likely also have some suggestions and ideas. Work together to come up with some solutions, whether they are short-term or long-term.

When you need more help.

The above approaches will be helpful in a perfect world. But we're often not in situations or in relationships that are perfect. If your healthcare provider has not proven to be helpful you have the option of searching for a provider who is more willing to listen to your concerns. If your partner does not want to talk about your intimacy concerns, you don't have that same options. In that case you will want to seek outside help. The best option is to seek counseling as a couple but if your partner is unable or unwilling, you should seek help alone.