Irritable bowel syndrome, more commonly known as IBS, is a disorder that affects the colon or the large intestine. IBS is a catchall term for a number of symptoms that occur together. IBS is deemed to be a functional disease that covers various bowel dysfunctions that can have diverse underlying causes.
One out of five Americans suffer from IBS and of these, 75 percent are female. Sometimes, symptoms of IBS in women are so severe, that changes in lifestyle are required.
What is IBS All About: Everything You Need To Know
People with IBS have a large intestine or a colon that is highly sensitive. Doctors are still wondering why some people suffering from IBS are having problems with the movement in their colon.
There are cases where food moves too slowly in the colon. This means that the colon absorbs too much fluids and this leads to constipation. In other cases, food moves too fast in the colon and it does not absorb enough fluid which leads to diarrhea.
New York University School of Medicine clinical assistant professor and a gastroenterologist, Steven Field, MD,explains that this is the reason why IBS symptoms include chronic constipation and chronic diarrhea. There are also cases where symptoms alternate between constipation and diarrhea.
Symptoms of IBS in Women: How to Confirm If You Have IBS
As discussed above, IBS is characterized by a wide array of symptoms. Medical practitioners refer to these symptoms in diagnosing IBS.
Symptoms can differ from one person to another, but it is more likely for your condition to be IBS if you notice the symptoms listed in the next section and they have lasted for at least six months.
Major IBS Red Flags: Changes in Bowel Movements
One of the main diagnostic criteria of IBS is a change in bowel movements. If you are experiencing two or more of these symptoms, it might be IBS:
- A bowel movement occurs more often or less often. People suffering from IBS may experience diarrhea, constipation or an alternating pattern between the two. For instance, your bowel movement may take place as often as three times a day, or be as scarce as less than three times in one week.
- Bloated feelings and excess gas. You have a feeling of gas in your intestines. You feel bloated most of the time.
- Difference in size and consistency of bowels. You observe differences in the consistency of your bowel movements. Sometimes, your bowels are pencil thin, other times they may be small and hard, and there are also cases where they are watery and loose.
- Changes in the way you pass your bowels. You notice a change in how you pass your bowels. You may feel as if you haven’t completely passed out your stool. In other times, you strain and have an urgent need to pass your bowels.
Other Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms to Look Out For: Intestinal Symptoms
Among the people who experience IBS 25 to 50 percent reported that they experienced the following gastrointestinal symptoms.
Pain or cramps in their lower belly. In IBS patients, pain is felt for at least three months and at least three days for each month. When at least two of the following are present, the condition is more likely to be IBS:
- Belly pain is affected by the frequency of your bowel movements.
- Pain is linked to your stool’s consistency and appearance.
- Discomfortis relieved when you defecate.
The common pain associated with IBS may be crampy or similar to the pain experienced by women during their periods, and either gas-like, dull, moderate or sharp.
This pain of IBS is often accompanied by constipation and followed by diarrhea. There are other people who feel pain that comes with mild constipation without any diarrhea. There are also others who notice mucus in their stool.
Discomfort after eating a meal. Aside from belly pain, people with IBS also feel nauseous or incredibly full after eating a normal-sized meal. Another common IBS symptom is satiety or feeling full early into a meal. Discomfort is often concentrated in the upper stomach area.
Acid reflux or heartburn takes place.Another common gastrointestinal symptom for those with IBS is heartburn. This is the feeling you get when acids from the stomach go back up through the esophagus. Heartburn may feel similar to a heart attack as it is felt on the upper chest or in the upper stomach.
More Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Beyond Your Intestines
By definition, IBS affects the intestines but there are symptoms that don’t involve them. These symptoms include the following:
Anxiety and/or depression
Backaches, specifically in the lower back
Bitter or unpleasant tastes in your mouth
Fatigue or extreme tiredness
Insomnia and other similar sleeping problems not associated with irritable bowel syndrome symptoms
Palpitations or the feeling that your heart flutters or skips a beat
Problems with urination, such as urgent or frequent need to urinate or trouble urinating or emptying your bladder
Sexual problems like the reduction of your desire to engage in sex, or pain during sex.
Getting the IBS Diagnosis:When to See Your Doctor
If you notice certain symptoms that seem top in point your condition as IBS, it would be best to consult your doctor right away. Although a diagnosis can be made by just looking into your symptoms, the doctor can do some tests to confirm it.
These tests may include stool and blood tests. These are required if you have symptoms that may indicate that the symptoms has other causes. If you have lost weight or experience rectal bleeding, anemia or there are lumps in your stomach, visit your doctor right away, as these are indicative or worse conditions.
When you feel depressed or anxious, consulting a doctor is also ideal as this could make your IBS symptoms worse. When left untreated, these conditions may worsen.
Your doctor may also require you to maintain a daily diary from two to four weeks. You should write everything you eat, when you eat it, and how you feel after during and after the food. You also need to record the appearance and consistency of your stool.
This diary can help you tell if your IBS is triggered by food, and what foods trigger your IBS. It will also help your doctor choose the best treatment of irritable bowel syndrome for you condition.
We will cover IBS triggers in greater detail in the later sections.
IBS Complications: How IBS Changes Life as You Know It
The biggest complication that IBS can have is its effect on your lifestyle. There are so many women who are afraid of dining out and spending time outdoors, as IBS could attack any time and this leads to anxiety. By feeling as if they are not living life to the fullest, many IBS patients also feel depressed.
In severe IBS cases, women couldn’t seem to do anything as their lives are dominated by their bowel movement. Constantly going to the bathroom can be embarrassing, inconvenient and unpractical.
Aside from that, constipation and diarrhea may also make hemorrhoids worse. This means that IBS may aggravate hemorrhoids and this leads to another set of problems.
Moreover, there are foods to avoid with IBS. These identified food triggers need to be eliminated from the diet. This means that an individual may be deprived of certain nutrients.
IBS Causes: Why IBS Happens to So Many People
Although we have pinned IBS to the colon, how it happens remains to be a mystery to many medical practitioners. There are some IBS triggers that are most likely the cause of some characteristic symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. These include:
Gastrointestinal Infections: How Food Poisoning Affects IBS
Women are twice as likely to suffer from IBS when they have experienced food poisoning or a similar condition. Antibiotics and herbs can treat women with IBS, but there are some germs that are resistant to medication.
Gut Bacteria Imbalance: The Battle Between Good and Bad Bugs
Just like in any part of our body, there are bacteria that are present in the gut. These bacteria promote a healthy gut, but taking antibiotics can wipe out the good bacteria in the gut’s lining. This is often the case when antibiotics are taken repeatedly.
Since bacteria in the gut helps in digesting food, an imbalance may disturb your immune and digestive capabilities.Aside from antibiotics, there are also certain steroids that could deplete the gut’s bacterial lining which leads to IBS.
Hormonal Imbalance: The Culprit for Many Symptoms of IBS in Women
A hormonal imbalance is the primary reason why a woman is more likely to suffer from IBS than a man. Women’s IBS symptoms are more common just before their period. There is no clear explanation why this happens. This may have something to do with women’s menstrual cycles.
Estrogen levels are lower than progesterone for several days; however, at the close of the cycle, progesterone levels become high and just before the period, they drop down low.
In women with IBS, estrogen levels were observed to be lower. Progesterone, on the other hand, has been liked to slower gut motility.
This means that, if an imbalance between these two female hormones is not normal, the bowel movement is slower. This often leads to cramping, congestion and distention in the abdominal pain.
Anxiety and Stress: How Emotions Affect Our Bowels
When you feel stressed or anxious, your body can react in different ways. Stress affects the autonomic nervous system. This is the part of the brain that has a system of nerves that govern sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system.
Sympathetic controls the fight or flight response. Meanwhile, the parasympathetic the body’s rest or digest response. For those with IBS, the brain sends a signal to improve food motility and decrease digestion. This leads to quick passing a partly digested stool.
IBS Food Triggers: How What You Eat Affects Your Bowel’s Movements
Every food product you consume affects your bowel. So, it only makes sense why food it one of the main IBS triggers. Most of the women who suffer from IBS do not know that they are allergic or sensitive to certain food products.
The most common foods that trigger IBS are as follows:
Carbonated beverages, particularly those with artificial sweetener and high fructose content
Drinks containing caffeine, such as coffee and tea
Dairy products, like milk and cheese
Preventing IBS: How to Address Your IBS Problems
We have covered the things that could trigger IBS in different people. Based on that list, we came up with the best ways on how to avoid IBS attacks. IBS patients often feel relief when they make small changes in their life, which include:
Little Changes in the Way You Eat Make a Big Difference with IBS
For people with IBS, keeping a daily diary is a must since it can help you make steady changes in your eating habits. There are small things that you can do to avoid IBS attacks, but they work big time. They include:
Increasing your fluid consumption. This is ideal for people with diarrhea, since it helps to avoid dehydration. But, its direct link to easing IBS is still unknown.
Add more fiber to your diet.A diet which is high in fiber would be good for your overall health, but you must not shock your system with a sudden increase in fiber intake. You should increase fiber consumption gradually. Your aim should be to consume at least 20 grams of fiber daily.
Try to eat more meals with lesser portions.Large meals can cause diarrhea and cramps in people with IBS. If you are experiencing IBS symptoms, you should aim for smaller portions of four to five meals instead of the three regular meals in a day. It is also ideal to eat at regular times.
Be careful of dairy products. For people who are lactose intolerant, care must be observed when consuming any dairy product. Doing so could lead to diarrhea and make IBS symptoms worse.
Avoid IBS trigger foods. If you have been religious in keeping your journal, you should be able to pinpoint which foods make IBS worse. Once you know what foods trigger IBS, eliminate them from your diet. But, be sure to get the nutrition they give your body from other sources.
Supplementing food with vitamins. Taking fiber supplements and vitamins that will provide your body with nutrients is also helpful.
Manage Your Stress Levels to Manage Your IBS
Since stress affects your bowel movements, you need to address it. As much as possible, steer clear of things that cause you stress. Among the activities that you can try include:
- Breathe Deeply: Breathing in and out can help you relax. This can help decrease your heart beat and calm you down.
- Meditate: By taking the time to go over your emotions on a daily basis, you feel more relaxed.
- Consult a Therapist: Talking about something that bothers your mind can relieve stress. This might just be the thing to do to decrease your stress levels.
Engage in Physical Activities to Disengage IBS
It has been proven that exercise can do wonders for your body. This will help relieve you from stress, which lowers your IBS symptoms.
Aside from that, regular exercise can help you lose weight. It has been observed that many people who suffer from IBS are overweight. If you lose even a small amount of weight, it can help with your IBS symptoms.
Choosing an IBS Treatment:You Can Find Relief for Bowel Irregularities
Since the cause of IBS remains to be unknown, many doctors recommend making lifestyle changes. Cutting some food products off your diet and easing stress can do wonders for IBS.
There in moderate to severe cases where those changes may not suffice. We will discuss the treatment options open to you when you have IBS, including:
- Antispasmodic and Anticholinergic Medications: If you tend to have painful bowels and experience bouts of diarrhea, this can help. Medications, such as dicyclomine and hyoscyamine can be helpful. Bear in mind that this medication is not ideal for people with glaucoma. This can also make constipation worse and make urinating difficult.
- Antibiotics: If your pain is caused by too many bacteria in your intestines, antibiotics can help. You must observe caution, as taking too many antibiotics can get rid of the good bacteria in your gut that helps in digestion.
- Anti-Diarrheal Medications:When you are prone to diarrhea, it would be helpful to take one of those over-the-counter drugs, such as loperamide. There are also people who find relief from diarrhea by taking bile acid binders, but these medicines can cause bloating.
- Laxatives: If you suffer from constipation, laxatives can be used to get your bowels going again.
- Approved IBS drugs. At present, there are two medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration(FDA) for treating women with IBS called alosetron and lubiprostone:
- Alosetron is an IBS treatment specifically designed for women. This medication is not allowed in men due to significant side effects. This can only be prescribed in diarrhea-predominant IBS and only in severe cases. Moreover, alosetron is only allowed when the patient does not respond to more conventional treatments.
- When other treatments have not been successful in constipation linked to IBS, Lubiprostone may be prescribed. This treatment for IBS is available for women who are 18 years old and above. In men, the effectiveness of this drug has not been proven yet.This medicine works by increasing the fluid secretion in the intestines so stool can pass easily.
Living a Fuller Life in Spite of Your IBS
The best way to manage IBS would be to recognize its patterns. With so many triggers that could cause it, pinning down the prime suspects can be hard. Where IBS is concerned, everything should be taken on a case to case basis. You should know the things that trigger IBS and avoid them.
IBS could interrupt your entire life, but if you make some changes now, you can be on the right track. You will not only be healthier; you can also avoid IBS triggers.
By making small changes in your lifestyle, symptoms of IBS in women could be less severe. It is always better to avoid the foods and stressors that make symptoms worse. By paying attention to your body, you will find the best solutions in time.
Prevention is and will always be better than cure, and this is true for IBS. Treatment options as far as medicines are concerned may be available, but they are not ideal. In fact, you should only take these drugs under the supervision of a medical professional, and if IBS does not respond to any other treatment. This is why it is crucial to discuss your symptoms with your doctor to find the right treatment for you.