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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Symptoms, Triggers, Causes, Diet And Treatment

Last Updated: Oct 28, 2021

What is irritable bowel syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common disorder which affects the colon (large intestine). It causes constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, abdominal pain and cramping. Irritable bowel syndrome is usually long term. Unlike other disorders like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome doesn’t result to colorectal cancer or changes in bowel tissue disorder. Irritable bowel syndrome can be controlled by administering changes in your diet and lifestyle. Some also require counseling and medication.

Is IBS a disability?

It is difficult to call IBS a disability but if you are unable to give your 100 % to the work and you are feeling severe abdominal pain or taking bathroom breaks more than usual then there is a possibility that you might earn a disability point.

What does an IBS attack feel like?

The common symptoms in IBS attacks are:

  • Pain or cramps in the abdominal area during bowel movements.
  • Feeling constipated or changes in bowel movements. Sometimes they occur alternately depending on person to person.
  • Bloating or discomfort in the abdomen.
  • Feeling you have not pooped properly.
  • Mucus in stool.
  • Indigestion, gas, and heartburn.
  • In women, especially during their periods, these symptoms get worse.

When should you see a doctor?

  • When you acquire symptoms like sudden weight loss, severe abdominal pain which progresses at night and rectal bleeding, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible.

Can IBS go away on its own?

IBS can disturb your entire lifecycle and can give you discomfort. But it doesn’t majorly affect your health system or guts. By adopting some rightful measures, one can get away with IBS. It can’t go away on its own but yes, we can prevent it by following some useful tips.

  • Increase your physical activities to ease constipation.
  • Consume probiotics.
  • Take peppermint tea or supplements.
  • Do yoga and meditation to avoid stress.
  • Try acupuncture therapy.
  • Take medication if required (in chronic constipation).
  • Follow the IBS diet. Include foods that are less in fructose content like quinoa, bananas, grapes, cantaloupe, zucchini, etc.

What causes irritable bowel syndrome?

The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is not yet known but studies suggest that a lot of factors play a major role. The intestinal walls are lined with a layer of muscle which contracts and relaxes in a rhythm when they move to your rectum through your intestinal tract. If you acquire irritable bowel syndrome, the contractions can get stronger and last much longer than usual. This causes diarrhea, bloating and gas. In some cases, the opposite can also occur, this can be characterized by weak intestinal contractions, which slows food passage resulting to dry and hard stools.

    However, some factors which cause irritable bowel syndrome include:

    • Foods- Many people have severe symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome when they consume certain things such as alcohol, carbonated beverages, milk, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beans, fruits, fats, spices and chocolates.
    • Stress- Most people who have irritable bowel syndrome find that their symptoms worsen and are more frequent during periods of extreme stress. While stress can aggravate these signs, it doesn’t cause irritable bowel syndrome.
    • Hormones- Studies state that women are more likely to develop irritable bowel syndrome than men. Hormonal changes play a big role in triggering irritable bowel syndrome. Many women experience worsening of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) during their menstrual periods.
    • Other illnesses- Other medical disorders such as bacterial overgrowth and gastroenteritis can also trigger irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Risk factors of irritable bowel syndrome:

  • People below the age of 45 are more likely to develop irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Studies state that people who have a parent or any family member suffering from irritable bowel syndrome are at a higher risk of developing it themselves.
  • Personality disorder, depression, anxiety, a history of sexual abuse and domestic violence is a major risk factor for developing irritable bowel syndrome.

What foods trigger IBS attacks?

There are some specific foods that can contribute to activating your IBS attacks. By making a proper plan, you can avoid them. This will help you in preventing problems like constipation, belly pain, bloating, and diarrhea. Many people don’t know that IBS is different for every individual. Keeping track of these triggers can help you in preventing them for a longer run. You can start with avoiding the following foods:

  • Avoid eating bread and cereals that are prepared from refined grains.
  • Lower down your high-protein diets.
  • Keep away from processed foods like chips and cookies.
  • Lesser your intake of coffee, alcohol, and carbonated drinks.
  • Stop consuming dairy products, particularly cheese as it can trigger the attacks of IBS.

Is yogurt good for IBS?

Without a doubt, yogurt is an abundant source of probiotics. It helps in treating IBS to a great extent. Yogurt puts good bacteria back into your intestinal tract. But simultaneously, there are some cases in which yoghurt reacts differently. Some people find yoghurt ineffective in IBS attacks. So, there are mixed responses on the efficacy of yoghurt.

What fruit helps IBS?

While excluding food from your diet that triggers IBS attacks, there are some fruits you can include in your diet to get away from IBS. These are:

  • Blueberries
  • Bananas
  • Cantaloupe
  • Grapes
  • Kiwis
  • Oranges
  • Strawberries
  • Lemon

Can drinking more water help with IBS?

Drinking water does help with IBS as it soothes your stomach and calms down distressing nerves. But there are certain drinks or beverages that have adverse effects on your stomach. These are:

  • Carbonated drinks
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Tea

How can I treat IBS naturally?

There are many natural ways that can help you in curing IBS.

  • Begin by reducing foods that are hard for your body to absorb. Avoid taking caffeine, alcohol, carbonated drinks, refined foods, etc. Fill your daily diet with basic foods that are light and easily absorbable.
  • Add fiber-rich foods to your diet. Consume Psyllium powder to get the benefits of added fibers. Mix Psyllium powder with your regular oatmeal and notice the difference within a week itself.
  • L-glutamine is another most effective supplement to add to your diet.
  • Go for an acupuncture healing to thwart IBS.
  • Yoga and meditation should be practiced regularly to calm your nerves.
  • Try peppermint teas or supplements to avoid constipation and related issues including gas and bloating.
Summary: IBS might cause discomfort in your lifestyle but by following certain advice or tips, you can actually cure it. IBS, as discussed above, is different for everyone. One can’t directly go away with it. Thus, start making some fundamental changes to your diet. You can also involve some muscle activity to reduce IBS symptoms.


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Written ByDr. Shivam Malhotra Sleep Medicine(Training),MBBS Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery,MD - General MedicineGeneral Physician
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Reviewed ByDr. Bhupindera Jaswant SinghMD - Consultant PhysicianGeneral Physician
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