Irritable Bowel Syndrome Basics
By Dr. Miranda LaBant
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that in many ways is misunderstood. Although the exact nature of IBS is unknown, we do know that it is likely a multi-factorial problem of the large intestines. Until about 30 years ago, IBS was not widely accepted as a syndrome. Given that April is IBS awareness month, I want to speak to the nature of this syndrome, how it can affect ones quality of life, and discuss how it can be diagnosed, as well as treatment options for symptoms of IBS sufferers.
If you have irritable bowel syndrome, you are not alone, it has been estimated that about 15 percent of the population have complaints of IBS. Irritable bowel syndrome is a common gastrointestinal disorder. It represents approximately thirty to fifty percent of all visits to a gastroenterologist, and many patients leave those visits undiagnosed. There is nothing normal about excusing yourself to go to the bathroom 12 times per day, nor is it normal to go a day without a bowel movement. If this sounds like you, there are options for treatment.
Today IBS is now recognized to have multiple distinct subtypes, these include; IBS-D (diarrhea-predominant), IBS-C (constipation- dominant), and IBS-M (mixed/alternating).
The diagnosis of IBS is often made by exclusion, as a result of ruling out other conditions that can mimic IBS. Many times the diagnosis is clinically made when a patient presents with character symptoms that correlate best with IBS.
Conditions that may mimic IBS:
- Response to dietary factors that interfere with digestion (i.e. excessive consumption of tea, coffee, alcohol, or simple sugars)
- Metabolic disorders, such as diabetes, thyroid disease, or adrenal insufficiency
- Mechanical causes, such as fecal impaction
- Laxative abuse
- Intestinal infections such as candida overgrowth
- Dysbiosis and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Infectious diarrhea
- Diverticular disease
- Food intolerances/sensitivities
Symptoms of IBS
Classic symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain, abdominal distention, and alternating bowel movements (constipation and diarrhea). Other symptoms of IBS can vary, including, nausea, fatigue, low back pain, and other non-specific gastrointestinal symptoms (i.e. bloating, gas, abdominal pain).
Once other conditions have been ruled out, there are four major approaches towards the treatment of IBS regardless of the root cause. These include the following:
- Addressing dietary factors —specifically adding in fiber, and reducing simple carbohydrates such as sugar.
- Tonification the gastrointestinal system (targeted herbal medicine, pharmaceuticals, or nutrients)
- Elimination of food allergens or intolerances
- Addressing any emotional or psychological triggers or stressor
Let’s take a deeper look into the above bullet points regarding treatment of IBS:
Increase Fiber & Decrease Sugars: Fiber is essential to proper bowel movements. By increasing fiber intake from fruit and vegetable sources rather than cereal or grain sources may offer some benefit to persons suffering from IBS. On the other hand, a diet high in refined sugars and carbohydrates may be the most important contributing factor to persons suffering from IBS, and it may be the reason IBS is so common in the United States.
Food allergies or intolerances: The importance of food allergies or intolerances as a cause of IBS has been recognized since the 1900s. According to a double-blind challenge, the majority of patients with IBS (approximately two-thirds) have at least one food allergy, and some have multiple. The most common allergens include, dairy, and grains. Food allergies and intolerance can also cause additional inflammation to the gastrointestinal tract, which can lead to an increase in symptoms.
Psychological factors: Mental and emotional problems such as anxiety, fatigue, hostile feeling, depression, and sleep disturbances are common in people suffering from IBS. Additionally the severity and frequency of symptoms tend to correlate with these psychological factors.
Nutrients, botanicals, & Pharmaceuticals: Based on your symptoms or specific root cause, a naturopathic physician might add in specific herbs, nutrients or antibiotics based on your individual needs and focused labs.
There is no single approach to getting relief from symptoms of IBS. If you or someone you know suffers from IBS, I recommend that you consult a physician. Diagnosis involves detailed history, physical exam, and focused labs to rule out other conditions that may mimic or cause symptoms of IBS.
Learn more about Dr. Miranda LaBant here: https://naturopathic-doctors.com/dr-labant/
Contact our office today to schedule a free information consult with Dr. LaBant. (603) 427-6800