Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

Are you suffering from disturbed bowel movements for a long time? Do you feel pain and cramping in your abdomen? Do you suffer from alternating diarrhea and constipation? Like on some days you spend most of your time going forth and back from the bathroom, and sometimes, nothing comes out for days. If yes, then chances are that you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

What is IBS?IBS is a group of digestive symptoms that occur due to irritation of your large intestine. These symptoms must persist for at least 3 days a month in 3 consecutive months. It is more common in women as compared to men. It affects almost 6%-20% of Americans.

The severity of IBS symptoms might vary from person to person. Some may develop only mild symptoms, while others may have to manage it through their life.

However, you must note that having IBS does not increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer. And also note that it is different from another digestive disorder named inflammatory bowel disease.

Causes and Triggers of IBS

The actual cause of IBS is still unknown. However, it is supposed that it is caused by an over-sensitive colon or immune system that easily gets irritated with multiple triggers.

When irritated, the colon might spastically contract to cause cramps, abdominal pain, and constipation, or it might increase the colon movements to cause diarrhea.


Triggers that irritate the colon might include anxiety, stress, certain foods (spicy and fatty foods), caffeine, and alcohol. The foods might vary from person to person. One might get irritated with eggs, while others may not.

Symptoms of IBS

Like severity, the frequency of IBS symptoms also varies from person to person. In some, the symptoms will resolve, but temporarily, just to come back again. In others, the symptoms may persist continuously.

The symptoms are more common in women as compared to men. Moreover, in women, these symptoms tend to flare up during menstruation or pregnancy. Most women with IBS state that they feel more pain and abdominal discomfort days just before menstruation, during menstruation, or after menstruation ends. Others also say that their symptoms worsen when they are pregnant.

The main symptoms of IBS include:

  • Pain and Cramps in the Abdomen, get worse after a meal and relive after a poo.
  • Bloating and Gas, relieved after a poo.
  • Constipation, or
  • Diarrhea

Some minor symptoms associated with IBS include:

  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Flatulence (Excessive Farting)
  • Mucus in Your Poo
  • Lack of Energy and Tiredness (due to mineral and water loss by diarrhea)
  • Back Pain
  • Frequent Urge to Pee, Painful Peeing, and Inability to Empty your Bladder
  • Incontinence (you don’t have control over when to poop and when not to).

Treatment of IBS

Well, a multitude of medicines are available to treat the symptoms of IBS, however, no permanent cure is available for IBS. Firstly, your doctor may suggest some dietary and lifestyle changes to avoid the triggers of IBS. It works effectively in many patients. If it doesn’t, your doctor may prescribe you certain medicines (like anticholinergics, anti-constipation drugs, and antidepressants) to relieve the spastic contraction of the colon muscles.

How To Manage and Live Well With IBS

IBS is a life-long ailment you have to manage through your diet and lifestyle. Research has shown that IBS symptoms get relieved in 70% of patients who comply with suggested dietary and lifestyle modifications. The prime purpose of these modifications is to avoid the triggers that irritate your gut and cause flare-ups. Read on and we have some insights to help you manage and live well with your IBS.

Dietary Modifications

First things first. The most effective dietary scheme for IBS is to note how you feel after eating a certain food. You may have noticed that your symptoms trigger after eating. But it might be difficult to identify which component of the food you are is responsible. Or maybe, it is how you eat or eat in a rush that triggers your symptoms.

Some foods that might trigger your symptoms include dairy foods, gluten (wheat), garlic, onion, high-fat foods, some fruits, and drinks.

Some other general tips to help you manage IBS are:

  • Keep a diary and record the pattern of your IBS symptoms as affected by your foods.
  • Eat only home-cooked foods.
  • Regularly take three small meals per day.
  • Take probiotics.
  • Don’t eat processed foods.
  • Do not eat in a rush.
  • Don’t eat more than ¾ portions of a fruit per meal.
  • Do not drink three or more cups of tea in a single day.
  • Do not drink alcohol.


FODMAP is an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. These are a variety of complex sugars found in some fruits and vegetables. FODMAPs are poorly absorbed by your gut and are fermentable. You must note that FODMAPs do not cause IBS, but they might trigger and worsen your symptoms.

A study has shown that people who follow a low FODMAP diet, their symptoms get relieved in 80% of the cases.

Choosing foods to absolutely restrict your intake of fermentable sugars has potent beneficial effects on IBS symptoms. The FODMAP diet has three stages, named restriction, reintroduction, and personalization. You can learn more about the FODMAP diet here.

Lifestyle Modifications

Lifestyle habits also regulate your IBS symptoms. Your IBS symptoms mainly imitate your physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. Regular physical activity significantly improves IBS symptoms. Emotional stress, anxiety, and frustration tie your gut in knots worsening your symptoms. Moreover, anxiety makes you more sensitive to abdominal pain and cramping.

Learning how to manage stress and get out of depression is very useful in IBS management. Counseling sessions with a psychologist might also work well for you.

Other Tips to Manage IBS

  • To relieve bloating and gas. Eat more porridge and linseeds. Don’t eat foods that are hard to digest, e.g., cabbage, broccoli, potato, and dried fruits. Buscopan might help relieve bloating.
  • To relieve diarrhea. Eat fewer high-fiber foods. Don’t consume sorbitol containing products. Loperamide (Imodium) might help reduce diarrhea.
  • To relieve constipation. Eat more high-fiber foods. Drink plenty of water. Laxatives like Fybogel might help relieve constipation.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a lifelong digestive condition that is often hard to live with. However, knowing the triggers of your symptoms (be it foods, stress, or lifestyle), and making proper dietary and lifestyle modifications can help you live well with the condition.

About the author: NORMAND SAVOIE

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