What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a gastrointestinal disorder characterized by the presence of a cluster of symptoms and signs in adults or children that include cramping, abdominal pain, increased gas, altered bowel habits, food intolerance, and bloating.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a "functional" disorder. This term refers to the changes in the functioning of the digestive system that results in the collection of symptoms referred to as IBS, meaning that it is a problem with the movement (motility) rather than any damage to the tissues of the digestive system.

In the past, irritable bowel syndrome was also called spastic colon or bowel, functional bowel disease, mucous colitis, or nervous colon.

The most common symptoms of IBS include:

  • changes in bowel habits

  • abdominal pain and cramping, which often reduce after passing a stool

  • a feeling that the bowels are not empty after passing stools

  • passing excess gas

  • the passing of mucus from the rectum

  • a sudden, urgent need to use the bathroom

  • swelling or bloating of the abdomen

  • Symptoms often get worse after meals. A flare-up may last for several days, and then symptoms either improve or resolve completely.

Signs and symptoms vary between individuals. They often resemble symptoms of other diseases and conditions and can also affect different parts of the body.

These may include:

  • frequent urination

  • halitosis, or bad breath

  • headache

  • joint or muscle pain

  • persistent fatigue

  • in females, painful sex

  • irregular menses

Anxiety and depression may also occur, often due to the discomfort and embarrassment that may accompany the condition.

What foods trigger IBS?

What you eat and how you eat can affect symptom of this condition. While it may not be possible to completely prevent IBS symptoms, you may find that certain foods trigger IBS symptoms. To help figure out which foods cause you symptoms, a doctor may suggest keeping a food diary.

Some foods can help in the prevention of symptoms.

Foods to eat that may provide symptom relief (home remedies and others) for some people:

  • Dietary fiber supplements

  • Water

  • Low-fat foods

  • High-carbohydrate foods (such as whole wheat pasta, brown rice, and whole grain breads)

  • Probiotics and prebiotics

  • Some people report kefir or Aloe Vera juice helps symptoms.

  • A high-fiber diet may help relieve constipation in some cases of IBS, but it may also worsen some symptoms such as bloating and gas. The current recommended daily fiber intake is 20-35 grams daily.

Foods to avoid or limit if you have IBS

  • Dairy products, including milk and cheese (Lactose intolerance symptoms can be similar to IBS symptoms.)

  • Certain vegetables that increase gas (such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts) and legumes (such as beans)

  • Fatty or fried foods

  • Alcohol, caffeine, or soda

  • Foods high in sugars

  • Artificial sweeteners

  • Chewing gum

  • Nuts

What natural and home remedies or other lifestyle changes help IBS symptoms?

Some lifestyle changes that can also help relieve symptoms are:

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals

  • Quit smoking

  • Exercise regularly

  • Take probiotics

  • Avoid caffeine

  • Use stress management and relaxation techniques

  • Pain-management techniques

  • Regular exercise such as walking or yoga

  • Get an adequate amount of sleep

  • Try ginger or peppermint, which may help digestion

Can IBS be prevented?

It may not be possible to prevent developing IBS, but you can take steps to prevent symptoms for occurring or worsening. As discussed earlier, dietary and lifestyle changes can help you manage symptoms. To identify food triggers, your doctor may suggest that you keep a food diary and avoid foods that cause symptoms. Manage stress and anxiety, and try cognitive therapy or psychotherapy if needed.

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