Irritable bowel syndrome is a common disorder that affects the digestive system, in particular, the large intestine. It has has a variety of names including spastic bowel, colitis, and functional bowel disease. There are four types including IBS with constipation (IBS-C), IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D), alternating (IBS-M), or non of the previous categories, called unsubtyped (IBS-U).
Is IBD the same as IBS?
No. The main difference is that IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) does not cause inflammation, ulcers, or damage to the gastrointestinal system. It is less serious but still presents difficult symptoms such as cramps, bloating, gas, mucus in the stool, diarrhea, constipation, or both. Anemia, weight loss, bleeding, and fever are not symptoms for IBS.
Although IBS is not life threatening, it can cause problems that change quality of life such as impacting work, school, and daily activities.
Please note: NoriHealth’s main focus is IBD symptom improvement. But since the ultimate goal is to improve gut health and overall wellbeing, much of the program can also be applied to IBS.
IBS causes discomfort or pain in the digestive system and trouble with bowel movements, either going more or less often than what is considered to be normal. Associated symptoms are abdominal pain, spasms, gas, and bloating. Most people experience alternating diarrhea and constipation. The symptoms tend to come and go, and can last for days, weeks, or even months at a time.
Possible causes for IBS have been genetically related, overactive bowels, excessive serotonin, certain bacteria or bacterial overgrowth and hormones. It can also be caused by other infections, celiac disease, leaky gut, environmental sensitivities, and malabsorption of nutrients.
The exact cause of IBS is not known. There are many factors that come into play including:
- Inflammation: irritation to the gut lining or excess immune-system function
- Infection: bad bacteria or viruses, an overgrowth of bad bacteria, or excess yeast can trigger IBS.
- Nervous system: Stress often triggers IBS. Poor communication between the gut and brain can cause abnormal changes. This may also be related to amount of serotonin in the gut.
- Excess muscle contractions: when the muscles of the intestine move faster or weaker than normal, there can be IBS symptoms.
Only a limited number of people have severe signs and symptoms.
Symptoms vary from person to person and not everyone will experience all of these. Sometimes there will be severe flare-ups while other times few or no symptoms at all.
- Diarrhea or constipation (sometimes alternating between the two)
- Stomach pain
- Frequent or excess gas
- Mucus in the stool
More severe symptoms such as bleeding, weight loss, extreme pain, or vomiting may indicate a more serious condition — please notify your physician.
Triggers can vary greatly from person to person. IBS is different for everyone but it can help to keep track of what you react to and learn how to prevent it.
Although it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact trigger, a few basic changes can make help symptoms improve over time:
- Diet: consider food sensitivities; many people have worse symptoms when they eat or drink certain foods or drinks. Common food triggers include dairy, wheat, sugar, corn, fruit, legumes, caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated beverages.
- Stress: stressful times can trigger IBS symptoms or make them worse. This is because the gut and mind are directly connected.
- Medications or drugs: antibiotics, antidepressants, some illegal drugs can trigger constipation or diarrhea.
- Hormones: women suffering from IBS tend to have more trouble during their periods.
There is no single treatment that works for everyone, therefore it can be difficult to find the trigger. This is why it is important to work with your doctor and track your habits, to discover the cause. No single treatment works for everyone.
Many people can control symptoms through diet and lifestyle change:
- Diet: avoid caffeine, add more fiber (vegetables, whole grains), drink water
- Stress reduction: counseling, mind-body, mindfulness, and stress reduction techniques such as yoga, counseling, and meditation
- Habits: eat smaller meals more often instead of big meals, keep a record of what brings on symptoms, get exercise to help with stress, don’t smoke
More intense symptoms can be treated with medication, therapeutic diets, and counseling.
Be your own expert.
Nori supports you in being your own expert by assisting you in identifying the culprit of your condition. We will help guide you through discovering, identifying, and taking action to change what is making you sick. It’s not just you, studies show that it can take well over 21 days to build a habit.
The main source of material was adapted from: Lipski, Elizabeth, Ph.D., CCN, CHN: Digestive Wellness 4th Ed. McGraw-Hill; 2012