Irritable bowel syndrome is about as pleasant as it sounds...not very.
We've spoken before about how tough it is to grow older. There are so many more health issues to keep an eye out for as you age. Turns out, if you've managed to make it past 35 without suffering from the effects of irritable bowel syndrome, you can consider yourself luckier than one in six Americans.
Irritable bowel syndrome can present in many ways, but its hallmarks tend to be:
- Painful abdominal cramps
- Bloating and gassiness
- Constipation or diarrhea
Doctors are still unclear about what causes irritable bowel syndrome. There's some evidence that it may be the byproduct of an abnormal digestive system that pushes food through the intestine too quickly (causing diarrhea) or too slowly (causing constipation). Other studies suggest that IBS may be the result of an abnormal nervous system or low levels of serotonin, which plays a role in digestion.
Luckily, beyond being incredibly uncomfortable and inconvenient, irritable bowel syndrome doesn't cause serious complications, side effects, or conditions. On the other hand, IBS is incredibly uncomfortable and inconvenient.
There aren't any tests to conclusively confirm whether you suffer from IBS, but doctors can rule out other illnesses (such as Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, or Celiac disease) and determine your diagnosis through process of elimination.
Unfortunately, there is no "cure" for IBS. However, there are diet and lifestyle changes you can make to alleviate the pain and discomfort caused by irritable bowel syndrome (or at least to rule it out as the source of your discomfort).
- Eat more fiber.Try to increase the amount of fiber in your diet. You'll want to do this slowly, since fiber can be a double-edged sword for people with IBS. On the one hand, a fiber-rich diet aids digestion and helps alleviate constipation. On the other hand, fiber can increase gassiness - not ideal if you're already suffering from painful bloating. Slowly increase the amount of fiber in your diet over several days and weeks, making note of how you feel.
- Avoid irritating foods. Everyone knows coffee is a diuretic. Add to that list alcohol, any type of soda, and caffeinated teas. Consider limiting the amount of dairy in your diet as well, since a mild lactose intolerance can aggravate the symptoms of IBS. And if you suffer from gassiness, try to stay away from beans and raw fruits and veggies (cook them first).
- Stay hydrated and exercise regularly. These recommendations fit into the general wellness category. Exercise promotes total health and wellness - that includes your intestines - while water flushes your system.
- De-stress. Many people who grapple with IBS note that symptoms can be worse when they're under a lot of stress. When things get hectic, try to keep calm. Breathe deeply, go for a walk, or inhale lavender-scented oils.