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UNDERSTANDING IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME (IBS): SYMPTOMS, CAUSES & DIAGNOSIS



April is IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) Awareness Month, so we thought we would guide you on a journey to understanding this disease.


IBS is estimated to affect 1 in every 5 Canadians, with symptoms often starting in early adulthood. With it affecting so many people in Canada and worldwide, it is still a disorder that remains widely misunderstood.


In this blog, we will delve into what IBS is, its symptoms, common triggers, potential treatments, and practical tips for managing this often debilitating condition. Whether you’re newly diagnosed, seeking a better understanding for a loved one, or simply curious and wish to gain some knowledge, we’re here to provide clarity and support on this journey to better digestive health as well as raise awareness.


Before you read on, we want to provide you with full-disclosure; we will be talking about poop.



What is IBS?


 According to the Cleveland Clinic, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) encompasses a constellation of symptoms impacting the digestive system, making it a prevalent yet often distressing gastrointestinal disorder.


Those affected by IBS commonly endure abdominal discomfort, including pain and cramping.


Additionally, individuals may contend with recurrent bouts of diarrhea, constipation, or a combination of both. Unlike conditions that result in structural damage to the gastrointestinal tract or heighten the risk of severe ailments like colon cancer, IBS is characterized as a chronic long-term condition. However, it is generally manageable through lifestyle adjustments, dietary modifications, medication regimens, and behavioral therapies.



What are the different sub-types of IBS?


Researchers have employed a stool-based classification system to delineate the various presentations of IBS during symptomatic flare-ups. This categorization hinges on the consistency and frequency of bowel movements experienced by individuals during these episodes, as they often alternate between normal and abnormal patterns. These abnormal days serve as the defining factor for the type of IBS diagnosed.


IBS-C (Constipation) is characterized by predominantly hard and lumpy stools.

IBS-D (Diarrhea) manifests with loose and watery bowel movements as the predominant feature.

IBS-M (Mixed Bowel Habits) is a combination or both.


These distinctions are crucial as specific treatment modalities are tailored to address the unique symptoms associated with each subtype of IBS.



Symptoms


Symptoms of IBS can manifest intermittently, occurring either frequently or during flare-ups with periods of relief in between.


This variability means that individuals may not consistently experience symptoms instead, they may have periods of normal bowel movement punctuated by episodes of symptom recurrence.


Common signs and symptoms of IBS are as follows:


·        Abdominal discomfort or cramps, often triggered by the urge to poop

·        Excessive gas and bloating

·        Diarrhea, constipation or a fluctuation between the two

·        Presence of mucus in the stool, commonly whiteish in colour

·        Sensation of not feeling empty after a bowel movement


Understanding and recognizing these symptoms are crucial steps in managing and seeking appropriate treatment for IBS.



What Causes IBS?


While the precise cause of IBS remains unknown, researchers classify it as a neurogastrointestinal disorder, highlighting disruptions in the intricate communication between the brain and the gut.


These disorders, also known as disorders of the gut-brain interaction, stem from challenges in coordinating the digestive process.


Individuals who possess Symptoms of IBS or have been diagnosed could have experienced any of the following:


Dysmotility: Characterized by irregular muscle contractions in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, particularly heightened activity in the colon, leading to cramping and pain.

Visceral hypersensitivity may contribute to heightened discomfort, as individuals with IBS tend to possess more sensitive nerves in their GI tract, lowering their pain tolerance.

Gut Bacteria alterations in IBS, indicate differences in microbial composition between those with and without the condition.

Childhood Stressors, including abuse of any kind, have also been linked to an increased prevalence of IBS later in life, underscoring the complex interplay between psychosocial factors and gastrointestinal health.

Sensitivities or allergies to certain foods can contribute to IBS symptoms or diagnosis. Identifying and managing these factors is crucial for symptom management and digestive health.



Diagnosis


Diagnosing IBS typically begins with your healthcare provider gathering a detailed medical history, and asking about your symptoms, bowel habits, and recent illnesses or stressors.


They may then perform various tests to rule out other conditions and confirm an IBS diagnosis. These tests might include blood work, stool tests, hydrogen breath tests, or imaging procedures like colonoscopy or upper endoscopy.


Each test is chosen based on your symptoms and medical history to ensure an accurate diagnosis.



IBS Management


Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome caries for each individual, but effective management strategies can typically be found. These may include dietary adjustments, medication, behavioral therapy, and lifestyle changes.


Dietary Changes:

·        Gradually increase fiber intake

·        Consider fiber supplements

·        Limit dairy and gas-inducing foods

·        Tr a gluten-free diet

·        Stay hydrated with plenty of water


Lifestyle Adjustments

·        Exercise regularly and practice relaxation techniques

·        Ensure quality sleep and establish a consistent bedtime routine


Therapy

·        Consider therapy options like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or hypnotherapy.


Medications

·        Your doctor may prescribe medications to alleviate specific symptoms like pain or regulate bowel movements.


While these approaches may take time to work and may not eliminate symptoms, they can significantly improve your quality of life with IBS.



Gaining a deeper understanding of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a crucial step toward effectively managing and supporting those affected by this complex condition. B Educating ourselves and others about the diverse symptoms, potential triggers, and available treatment options, we can foster empathy, reduce stigma, and enhance the quality of life for individuals living with IBS. Through increased awareness and knowledge, we can work towards creating a more supportive and inclusive environment where individuals with IBS feel heard, understood, and empowered on their journey towards digestive health.

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