The Lowdown on IBS

The Lowdown on IBSConstipation, diarrhea, cramps. All women have tummy trouble from time to time. But, irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, can keep your bowels in a constant bind and make going about your day a bit more challenging.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a stomach disorder that causes pain, recurring diarrhea or constipation, or both. IBS is twice as common in women than men. In fact, one in six women have it.

Between the frequent trips to the bathroom and persistent belly pain, living with IBS is anything but smooth sailing. When you battle IBS, common symptoms such as reflux, gas and feeling full or bloated, on top of constipation and/or diarrhea, can mean missed days of work and sitting on sidelines (or standing in the bathroom line) at social events.

Identify Your IBS

Your doctor will use specific criteria and your description of symptoms to make an IBS diagnosis. Diagnosis criteria include:

  • Stomach pain that occurs at least one day per week, on average, for three consecutive months and that is associated with two or more of the following:
    • Stomach pain that improves after a bowel movement
    • Changes in how often you have a bowel movement
    • Changes in how your bowel movement looks (constipation, diarrhea or both)

When describing your symptoms, tell all, even if the details are embarrassing.

Your doctor may refer to you to a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in treating gastrointestinal (GI) tract diseases, for tests that can rule out other reasons for your symptoms.

Help Your IBS

IBS treatment is on a case-by-case basis. Changes to your diet and lifestyle are usually the first steps. Eating smaller meals and low-fat foods may help. A high fiber diet can help with constipation, while alcohol, caffeine and dairy may trigger symptoms. Track what you eat so you can identify and avoid the troublemakers. Regular exercise, anti-diarrheal medication or stool softeners can also relieve pain and reduce your symptoms.

Follow a FODMAP Diet

Research has shown that certain carbohydrates may contribute to IBS symptoms. These carbs are: Fermentable, Oligo-saccharides, Di-saccharides, Mono-saccharides and Polyols. A GI doctor may prescribe a low-FODMAP diet to help with your symptoms.

Red Flag Warnings

It can be tough to determine when tummy trouble is temporary and when it's something more serious. Call your doctor if you experience:

  • Abdominal pain at night that prevents sleep
  • Abnormal lab work, such as results that indicate anemia
  • Diarrheal episodes that wake you at night
  • Rectal bleeding or bloody stools
  • Weight loss