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. 

The Importance Of Maintaining A Healthy Weight when it comes to incontinence

The Importance of Maintaining a Healthy Weight When It Comes To Incontinence

Many people put losing weight on their list of new years resolutions. But in addition to the many obvious benefits of staying trim, here’s another:  Maintaining a healthy weight may help lessen your symptoms of incontinence. People who are overweight typically have much greater amount of stress and pressure to the pelvic area, resulting in a weakened pelvic floor. Additionally, more weight and pressure on the bladder can cause an increase in leakage.

Losing weight can be difficult for many people. But, keeping a healthy diet and a strong exercise routine can help you shed those pounds and stay healthy. 

Here are some eating tips that may help you jump start your weight loss plan:

  1. Eat a high-protien breakfast. A high-protein breakfast can help keep you full throughout the day, reduces food craving and calories intake.
  2. Replace soda and sugary drinks with water to reduce calories.
  3. Drinking water before meals may help keep you from overeating.
  4. Eat food that is rich in fiber.
  5. Eat food slowly. Eating slowly gives your body enough time to recognize when it is full, preventing you from overeating.
  6. Eat lots of vegetables and fruit. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and will keep you full without all the added calories of junk food.
  7. Keep the amount of salt in your diet to 6 g or less than that per day.

Keep in mind that if you have incontinence, there are some foods you may want to avoid, as they may make your symptoms worse. Pay close attention to what you eat and stay away from the foods that trigger your incontinence.

ASK THE EXPERT: Do I Really Need To Avoid Sugar And Alcohol If I Have Incontinence?

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: It’s the holidays, and it’s hard to avoid all the goodies and treats around me.  Do things like sugar and alcohol really make a difference in my incontinence symptoms?

Answer: While it may not be what you want to hear, the answer is yes.  Let’s start with sugar.  Sugar (even the artificial kind) is a known bladder irritant – especially for those with overactive bladder – and too much of it can keep you running to the bathroom more times than you’d want during the holidays. Not only that, consuming too much sugar causes the kidneys to work harder to flush the sugar out of the blood, which can result in an increase in the amount of urine you’re holding onto – not a good thing if you already have a leakage problem. High blood sugar levels have also been shown to increase the risk of urinary tract infections.

And now alcohol. Alcohol is a diuretic. It increases urine production which can lead to increased frequency and urgency of needing to use the restroom. In addition, alcoholic beverages can stimulate the bladder, which can also lead to incontinence.

In short – both sugar and alcohol should be avoided as much as possible for those with incontinence or overactive bladder. If you do plan to indulge this holiday season, remember that moderation is key. 

Are you an expert in incontinence care? Would you like to join the NAFC expert panel? Contact us!

The "Big Four" Bladder Irritants

The Big Four Bladder Irritants

We’ve written about this before, but diet cannot be stressed enough when it comes to your bladder and bowel health. It’s true that what you eat can affect more than just your weight, energy, and mood. Food can change how your body works on the inside!

We advise you consume the follow four irritants in moderation based on acidity.

CAFFEINE

Caffeine irritates the bladder and create stronger urges. Like alcohol, our favorite caffeinated breakfast drinks like coffee and tea also act as diuretics, causing more frequent trips to the restroom.

JUICE

Although juice is inherently good because it comes from fruit, a lot of juices are mostly comprised of sugar because they’re the fruit’s sweetness without the fiber of the skin or body of the whole fruit.

If you must indulge in juices, try to do so sparingly and try to avoid versions made from concentrate and added sugars.

TOMATOES

Although tomatoes have incredible nutrients and minerals that benefit your diet, they are fairly acidic and can be irritating for individuals prone to reflux and bladders in general.

Eat sparingly.

CARBONATED DRINKS

These drinks usually have caffeine, as well as carbonation, which should both be avoided.  In addition, many of them contain artificial sweeteners, which are believed to be a bladder irritant.

Carbonated water can be a great substitute but might also want to be consumed sparingly given the gas element of additional bubbles in your system.

Your Guide To Eating During The Holidays For A Healthy Bladder

Eating Well To Maintain Good Bladder Health

The holidays are well upon us, and for many, this means an influx of all types of delicious holiday food and drinks.  Maintaining healthy eating habits is always at the top of mind for my family and me, but during the holidays, it’s sometimes easy to let our guard down.  Sneaking an extra cookie from the batch made for my son’s class treats, having that extra glass of wine at the holiday Christmas party – it can all add up.  And if you have symptoms of Overactive Bladder (OAB), as I do, these little extras can make them even worse and end up putting an unwanted damper on the holiday season.

At my last appointment, I asked my physician for some tips on how to best manage my diet during the holidays to ensure that I’m not running to the toilet every five minutes.  She told me that the best rule of thumb is to try to stick to your normal eating plan as much as possible.  “After all”, she said, “you probably already have a good idea of what types of foods irritate your bladder and increase your symptoms.” (Ahem, chocolate, I’m looking at you.)  So, keep it simple and try to stay the course.  However, she said, if you must indulge (it is the holidays after all), do so sparingly.  And try to avoid the below foods as much as possible, since they are known bladder irritants.

Alcohol. 

That glass of wine or champagne may seem like a good idea, but alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it creates additional urine in the bladder.  This can cause an increase in urge incontinence, and may also trigger symptoms of overactive bladder.

Coffee and tea. 

Like alcohol, coffee and tea act as diuretics, causing more frequent trips to the restroom.  In addition, they contain caffeine, which can irritate the bladder and create stronger urges.  Limit coffee and tea as much as possible. (I know, I know – I am cringing as I type this at 5 am!)

Soda and fizzy drinks.  

These drinks usually have caffeine, as well as carbonation, which should both be avoided.  In addition, many of them contain artificial sweeteners, which are believed to be a bladder irritant.

Chocolate. 

Unfortunately, chocolate contains caffeine, which may cause bladder irritation.  (I had to use a little restraint to not shout at my doctor for this one.)

Sugar.

While sugary treats may be difficult to avoid around the holidays, you should do your best to limit things like cakes, cookies, and candy.  My doctor explained that sugar –even in inconspicuous forms like honey – can irritate the bladder.  If you must indulge, try to do so sparingly and try to avoid foods containing artificial sweeteners.  This can be a bummer around the holidays, when delicious treats abound, but look at it this way – I just gave you an alibi to avoid your Aunt Marta’s fruitcake this year.  You’re welcome.

Spicy foods.  

Things like curries or many spicy ethnic foods can irritate the bladder and increase symptoms of OAB and incontinence.  Try your best to avoid them.

Acidic foods.

Increased acid in things like citrus fruits, tomatoes, and cranberries can worsen bladder control.

Processed foods. 

Many processed foods contain artificial flavors and preservatives that can irritate the bladder and worsen incontinence symptoms.

I’ve been pretty good so far this season.  Not only are the above tips helping to keep my bladder healthy and avoid accidents, they are also helping me keep my weight in check – something that I think we all struggle with during the holidays. My doctor said this is important too, since increased weight gain can also contribute to a decrease in bladder control.  

Probably the best tip my doctor shared with me is to keep a food diary to track what I eat and to determine how it affects me.  I’ve been at it for a couple of weeks now and it has really helped me identify my “problem areas”.  Not only that, it also keeps me honest – no more stealing a handful of M&M’s from the candy dish as I walk past it.  And while the temptation is sometimes hard to pass up, knowing that it’s helping me stay dry makes it worth it.  And just think, come January, when everyone else is trying to work off those extra pounds they accumulated during the holidays, I’ll already be one step ahead of the game. 

Do you have any diet tips for the holidays?