Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Strategies for Managing a Complex Condition
Researchers have not yet come up with a coherent scientific explanation, let alone a cause, for irritable bowel syndrome and its debilitating symptoms. This means that there is no cure or even a comprehensive treatment. There are ways to manage symptoms, though.
A Common DiagnosisWomen are diagnosed with IBS more often than men. The main symptoms are abdominal pain, usually associated with bloating and gas, and a change in bowel movements—diarrhea, constipation, or alternating bouts of each. Mucus may be present with diarrhea, but there is no blood or pus. Because tests show no abnormalities, IBS is usually diagnosed after other diseases have been ruled out. IBS may be suspected when a person has recurrent abdominal pain with at least two of the following features:
- Pain is relieved after a bowel movement
- The onset of pain is associated with diarrhea or constipation
- The onset of pain is associated with a change in the form of the stool—loose, watery, or pellet-like
Dietary RestrictionsSince IBS primarily affects the GI tract, dietary changes are a good place to start. Many people benefit from avoiding certain foods and ingredients, such as:
- Fatty foods
- Gas-producing vegetables and legumes
FiberDepending on your age and gender, general guidelines recommend aiming for 25-38 grams of fiber in your daily diet. Fiber may improve the colon's function and reduce symptoms, especially in people who tend to be constipated. However, if your IBS symptoms are mainly gas and bloating, fiber may cause you to have more abdominal discomfort. Your doctor can help you select good sources of fiber based on your symptoms. Examples include:
- Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes
- Raw bran
PeppermintOf the many herbs and supplements that have been recommended for IBS, peppermint oil is one of the few backed by some scientific evidence. The recommended dose is 0.2 milliliter (ml) capsules three times daily after meals. Be sure to take the enteric-coated form, so that the capsule will not be broken down in the stomach before it reaches the intestines. Talk to your doctor before taking any herbs and supplements. They could affect medicines that you are taking or conditions that you have.
Stress ManagementStress management may be able to ease IBS symptoms. Some treatments that may be used to decrease stress include:
- Relaxation response—This may include techniques like meditation, guided-imagery, and progressive relaxation.
- Biofeedback —Biofeedback involves being monitored with a machine that provides information about the body, like how tense the muscles are. The person can then use this information to take steps to reduce stress.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) —CBT can help people to address their thought patterns and behaviors and manage how they react to their condition and symptoms.