Managing IBS

By Betsy Luchars – Dietetic Intern

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a long-term or chronic intestinal disorder characterized by significant changes in bowel movements. Patients may experience diarrhea, constipation, or a combination of the two. In addition, some people experience abdominal cramps, pain, bloating, and other symptoms related to their bowel movements. With IBS, the digestive tract appears normal on routine tests (no inflammation or structural abnormality) and, thus, is often referred to as a functional GI disorder.

What is the difference between Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?

IBD includes several GI disorders in which the lining of the intestines becomes inflamed, and sores can form, creating blood in the stool. Because inflamed intestines affect how nutrients are absorbed, weight loss is very common in IBDs. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are two disorders considered IBDs. On the other hand, IBS does not affect how nutrients are absorbed.

Medical experts believe IBS is caused by one or more of the following:

  • Abnormalities in gut motility
  • Under- or over-active immune system
  • Abnormal amounts or types of bacteria in the gut

Facts about IBS:

  • IBS affects between 25 and 45 million people in the United States and potentially impacts 10-15% of the population worldwide
  • Most persons with IBS are under the age of 50
  • Neither stress nor diet cause IBS but may trigger symptoms
  • Of those diagnosed with IBS, two-thirds are women, and one-third are men
  • IBS is not a risk for another, more severe disease
  • The stigma attached to bowel disorders can cause increased suffering for those with IBS

Diet and IBS:

There is no cure for IBS, but there are ways to improve symptoms and feel better.

The dietary treatment for IBS varies from patient to patient; however, recent scientific studies have shown that a specific diet, called “the low FODMAP diet,” can improve symptoms. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. What does that mean? These carbohydrates are either sugars or fibers that are not easily digestible. As a result, they pull more water into the bowel and increase gas, leading to bloating, pain, and diarrhea.

FODMAPs are in most fruits and vegetables we eat, but some have more than others.

The low-FODMAP diet encourages avoiding foods with high amounts of these carbohydrates. FODMAPs are in everyday foods such as wheat, barley, rye, apples, pears, mango, onion, garlic, honey, kidney beans, cashew nuts, agave syrup, sugar-free gum, mints, and some medicines. Under the care of a knowledgeable dietitian, elimination and slow re-introduction of some of these carbs have often been successful in relieving symptoms.

IBS does not have to be a burden. Consult your doctor or dietitian and consider keeping a food diary to see if any symptom trends appear.

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