Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, is one of the most common abdominal disorders. For people suffering from the disorder, a lasting cure for IBS is often elusive and the sufferer has no option but to bear the pain and discomfort all alone. A number of studies have found that almost 20% Americans suffer from IBS and as many as 50% of people visiting a doctor for abdominal problems suffer from the disorder. IBS can cause a great deal of distress and discomfort and is often aggravated by emotions such as depression, anxiety, anger and frustration.
Even though IBS is a common abdominal disorder, its symptoms vary greatly from person to person and even within a person from one time frame to another. Moreover the symptoms can easily be confused with another hormonal, reproductive and gastrointestinal problem that makes an effective diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome extremely difficult. Nevertheless it is extremely important to diagnose the problem correctly as it would lead to an effective cure for IBS.
Some of the most common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include hard, lumpy or mucus covered stools; constipation or diarrhea, including alternate bouts of these two; bloating and gas problems, severe abdominal pain and cramps, constant fatigue or headache, feeling of nausea after eating, urge for another bowel movement after having one as well as anxiety or depression.
Once the symptoms of the disorder are identified, a treatment plan for IBS treatment can be made. Unfortunately there is no single cure for IBS available that can treat all the symptoms of the disorder. The treatment plan needs to be tailored as per the symptoms and discomfort experienced by the person.
Depending on the severity of the problem, the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome may involve:
1) Changes in diet and eating habits
3) Therapy to deal with psychological problems
The sections below discuss the above aspects of the IBS treatment one by one.
1) Changes to diet and eating habits
Since IBS is an abdominal disorder, changes to diet, nutrition and eating habits are often required. If you are used to eating large portions of meals then it is recommended that you switch to small portions and increase the number of times you eat in a day. Chew slowly and don’t speak while you eat to minimize the amount of air that you swallow while eating. Drink 8-10 glasses of water per day to keep yourself hydrated and stay away from sodas and carbonated drinks as they can cause bloating and discomfort.
It is recommended to include more carbohydrates and less fat in the food that you eat. Food products such as whole grain bread, rice, cereals, pasta, fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of carbohydrates and they would help you to deal with irritable bowel syndrome in a better way. It is also important to include plenty of fiber in your diet, especially if you suffer from constipation. An increased intake of fiber not only helps in better digestion but also helps in movement of stool. However a drastic increase in fiber may cause gas or bloating for some people so make sure that you increase your fiber intake gradually.
While changing your eating habits, it is also important to avoid food products that can prolong the discomfort or make the problem worse. Again the list of food items to avoid would depend on the symptoms experienced by the person. Here is a list of food items that are known to aggravate the IBS problem:
a) Caffeine products – Caffeine products such as tea, coffee and chocolate can lead to cramps and heartburn.
b) Fatty foods – Foods rich in fat are often difficult to digest so it is best to avoid them if you suffer from IBS.
c) Dairy products – Lactose intolerance can lead to increased bouts of diarrhea. If you are lactose intolerant then it is best to avoid dairy products (except cheese and yogurt) during bouts of IBS. Switch to skim or low fat milk products and you should experience relief within few days.
d) Spicy foods – Spicy food items can lead to digestive problems, heartburn and discomfort so it is advisable to switch to less spicy food.
e) Fruits – Certain fruits, especially citrus fruits such as oranges can cause discomfort so it is best to avoid them during IBS.
f) Raw Vegetables – A lot of raw vegetables such as beans, cabbage, broccoli, onions, red and green pepper can cause gas problems and bloating so it is advisable to restrict their consumption.
g) Sugar – If you suffer from fructose intolerance then it is best to avoid sweets and chocolates during IBS. A lot of artificial sweeteners’ containing sorbitol can also make the problem worse since sorbitol is not easily digestible.
h) Cigarettes and alcohol – Consumption of cigarettes and alcohol can have an adverse effect on digestive system so it is recommended that you avoid them while you are suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.
i) Medications – Certain medications are known to aggravate the irritable bowel syndrome so it is best to consult your doctor regarding their usage.
Depending on the severity of the problem, your doctor can recommend different medications to deal with symptoms of IBS. Again it is important to note that there is no single medication available that offers cure for IBS so the treatment is tailored according to the symptoms and the discomfort experienced by the person. Here is a list of common medications recommended for irritable bowel syndrome treatment:
a) Laxatives – If you experience constant constipation then the doctor may recommend a laxative for few days.
b) Fiber supplements – If the increased intake of fiber proves ineffective in dealing with constipation then the doctor may recommend fiber supplements to improve digestion and stool movement.
c) Antidiarrheals – Certain antidiarrheals like Loperamide help in reducing the stool frequency and improve the consistency of stools.
d) Antispasmodics – Antispasmodics like Hyoscine, Pinaverium and Cimetropium help to control spasms and relieve abdominal pain.
e) Antidepressants – Certain antidepressants such as tricyclic antidepressants help in relieving abdominal pain.
3) Therapy to deal with psychological problems
Depending on the severity of the IBS symptoms, therapy may be needed to deal with the psychological aspects of the disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy or psychodynamic therapy is often recommended to help the person deal with the pain and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Hypnotherapy may also be recommended to help person relax and manage stress in a better way.
As you can see from the above sections, cure for IBS involves several steps such as a change in diet, nutrition and eating habits, medication and even therapy. It is best to follow the advice of your doctor as irritable bowel syndrome can persist for a long time and may even recur if the treatment is stopped midway.