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How to Reduce Stress if You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Types of irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder that affects the colon (large intestine). A functional gastrointestinal disorder means that your GI tract behaves in an abnormal way without any evidence of damage. IBS is a chronic condition, meaning that it lasts a long time. Due to this, it is important to learn how to cope and manage the disorder long-term. Although IBS can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort, it does not harm the intestines. There are four different types of IBS:

  1. IBS with constipation (IBS-C)
  2. IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D)
  3. Mixed IBS (IBS-M), meaning IBS with both constipation and diarrhea
  4. Unsubtyped IBS (IBS-U), meaning IBS without signification constipation or diarrhea

Symptoms of IBS

Symptoms of IBS can vary greatly depending on the severity of the disorder and the type of IBS experienced. In general, some signs and symptoms of IBS include:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain or cramping (ranging from mild to severe)
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Abdominal distension
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Belching

Serious symptoms unrelated to IBS

The following are NOT signs or symptoms of IBS. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should bring them up with your primary care physician (PCP) or family doctor:

  • Blood in the stool or urine
  • Black or tarry stool
  • Vomiting
  • Pain or diarrhea that interrupts sleep
  • Fever
  • Weight loss

What might trigger an IBS Episode?

The cause of IBS is unknown, although many factors come into play when triggering an episode. Triggers can vary from person to person, especially in regards to food sensitivities. Common triggers of IBS episodes include:

  • Food: If you have a food allergy, sensitivity or intolerance, these foods can trigger an IBS episode. Common food irritants include high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, dairy and foods high in histamines.
  • Stress: This is a very common trigger. Many people find that their IBS symptoms are worse or occur more frequently during periods of increased stress such as major tests or starting a new job.
  • Hormones: Women are twice as likely as men to have IBS. Researchers believe that hormonal changes play a role in this disorder. Many women report that their symptoms are worse during or around their menstrual periods.
  • Other illnesses: If you are sick with other illnesses, especially illnesses that affect your GI system such as gastroenteritis or too many bacteria in the intestines, your IBS can become worse.

Managing your IBS

There are a variety of lifestyle changes and medications that can help manage the symptoms of IBS. Regular exercise is known to decrease the severity and frequency of symptoms. Managing stress levels is an important part in reducing symptoms. Many patients find that simple things like talk therapy and taking the time to relax are beneficial in managing their IBS. Keeping a symptom diary may help to identify triggers. This will aid in knowing what worsens symptoms so that you can avoid certain triggers. Fiber supplements can help control constipation. Anti-diarrheal medications may also be prescribed to help control diarrhea. Anticholinergic and antispasmodic medications may help relieve painful bowel spasms. There are two medications currently approved specifically for IBS. Alosetron (Lotronex) is prescribed for severe cases of IBS-D in women. Lubiprostone (Amitiza) is approved for women 18 years of age and older with IBS-C.