- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of America's most common gastrointestinal disorders. It can cause a change in bowel habits and impact your quality of life.
- Seeking help to manage IBS can be hugely beneficial in helping you manage the symptoms, commonly gas, bloating, changes in bowel frequency, and abdominal pain.
- A multidisciplinary team, including doctors, specialists, dietitians, and other allied health clinicians, can work with you to target different areas of IBS management.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of America's most commonly diagnosed gastrointestinal disorders and can affect your bowel regularity and other digestive symptoms. Fortunately, you can manage this condition with the support of a gastroenterologist (a physician specializing in gut health), a registered dietitian, and possibly a mental health counselor if you’ve noticed a link between anxiety and worsening symptoms.
In this article, you’ll learn more about IBS - including the symptoms, common subtypes, and possible treatment options to help you feel your best.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases defines IBS as a group of symptoms that includes abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits without visible damage or disease in the intestinal tract.
There are four subclasses of IBS.
1. IBS with constipation (IBS-C.): More than a quarter of your stools are lumpy and hard.
2. IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D.): More than a quarter of your stools are loose and watery.
3. IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M.)
- More than a quarter of your stools are lumpy and hard.
- More than a quarter of your stools are loose and watery.
4. IBS with no regular stool pattern (IBS-U.)
- No apparent patterns in stools.
The root cause for developing IBS is unknown, but certain factors can increase risk. These include hereditary factors such as having a family member with IBS, an unbalanced gut microbiome, unmanaged high stress, the state of intestinal motility or movement, intestine permeability, and having a severe infection in your gut. If you’re unsure if you have IBS, consider taking an IBS quiz to evaluate your symptoms.
A medical doctor can diagnose IBS. They will review your short and long-term symptoms related to your digestive health. These include:
- Changes in the frequency of having a bowel movement.
- Changes in how your stool looks.
- Any pain associated with your bowel movements.
An IBS diagnosis may be given if your symptoms intermittently have lasted longer than six months or if you have experienced them weekly for the last three months.
While reviewing your history, your doctor may ask you to complete other tests to rule out digestive conditions such as celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, and other inflammatory bowel diseases.
Nourish can connect you with a dietitian specializing in gut health disorders. If you want individualized nutrition support, consider booking a virtual appointment with a dietitian.
Who Should I See About IBS?
Your doctor should assess any changes in your digestive health. Changes include an altered frequency of bowel movements, pain in the abdomen, more gas production, and increased bloating.
Working with a medical team to manage IBS offers a holistic approach to your health, which can help treat digestive issues. A medical team can include members of different health disciplines, including family doctors, gastroenterologists, nurses, and other allied health professionals, including registered dietitians.
Each member of the medical team may offer different treatment strategies. Research shows several therapeutic approaches have improved symptoms of IBS, including:
- Follow a regular sleep schedule.
- Managing stress.
- Making dietary changes and eliminating trigger foods that exacerbate IBS symptoms.
- Pursuing mental health counseling to learn cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to help reduce anxiety that may worsen gut symptoms.
- Building a schedule that includes regular physical activity.
A registered dietitian nutritionist can help you manage IBS through personalized nutrition counseling. IBS's symptoms and triggers are highly individualized, and working with a nutrition expert trained in digestive health can be extremely helpful in finding symptom relief.
At your first appointment, your dietitian may ask you to complete a dietary recall and include noticeable gastrointestinal symptoms. This data will help them identify patterns and links between foods that may worsen your IBS symptoms.
A common nutrition approach is identifying and eliminating foods that worsen your IBS symptoms or cause a flare-up. Taking these steps under the guidance of a registered dietitian can ensure you avoid over-restricting foods, which may increase the risk of vitamin and nutrient deficiencies.
As well as reviewing your eating habits, a dietitian can offer other treatment routes to support your overall progress. Examples include supplements for IBS, including psyllium fiber, probiotics, and peppermint oil.
Other providers that may be helpful for IBS include a mental health counselor, a physical exercise specialist, and possibly peer support from others who can relate to your condition. Your medical team and dietitian may offer suggestions of alternative providers that could be helpful to you.
What Treatment Options Are Available for IBS?
Natural methods to heal IBS include practicing mindfulness meditation and light yoga practices, and the role of acupuncture is being explored. Although no cure has been found, many evidence-based practices can improve symptoms and quality of life.
Diet Changes to Help Manage IBS Symptoms
The American Gastroenterological Association recommends that all patients who want to make dietary changes to heal their IBS work with a registered dietitian specializing in gastrointestinal health. They can offer expert guidance to help you achieve results safely.
- Increase your soluble fiber intake. Soluble fiber has a gel-like texture and helps with bowel regularity. Foods rich in soluble fiber include oats, barley fruits, legumes, and most vegetables.
- Try the low-FODMAP approach. This diet temporarily restricts foods with specific carbohydrate molecules that can ferment in the gut and worsen IBS symptoms. Here is a grocery list with low-fodmap foods to help you get started.
- Specify the length of your dietary changes. If no positive changes are observed after the timeline expires, move on to another intervention.
- Track your experiences in a journal. You can estimate your portion sizes but include information about your symptoms after eating. Bring this data to your dietitian appointment to review the information and identify possible trends.
Finding Support and Dealing with the Emotional Impact of IBS
Learning how to live with an unpredictable condition, such as IBS, can be emotionally and mentally draining. Older research has found that people with IBS are more likely to call in sick for work and can experience higher anxiety levels around food, especially while traveling. 2023 research reports similar findings and states that a lack of support and understanding from friends and family can worsen the experience.
Building a reliable support network is essential to managing IBS, and improving the psychological impact of managing IBS can improve outcomes and quality of life.
You can find support by connecting with your medical team and booking regular visits with your dietitian. They can refer you to a local support group or suggest an app to help you stay on track between visits. Popular (free) apps include NERVA IBS hypnotherapy and Bowelle IBS tracker.
Working with a medical team that includes a registered dietitian can help improve IBS outcomes. You can lean on this network for mental and physical support as you navigate treatment options. Every member of your care team has health expertise and wants to help you achieve symptom relief so that you feel your best.
How Nourish Can Help
IBS is a common digestive disorder, and working with a registered dietitian specializing in gut health can help you manage the symptoms and improve your quality of life. Together you can create a nutrition care plan that brings you closer to your health goals and enables you to regain control of your digestive health.
Nourish offers individualized nutrition counseling through virtual appointments. Click here to book an appointment with a dietitian specializing in digestive health.
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