This month, we shine a light on a very common and misunderstood disorder called IBS. Irritable bowel syndrome affects millions of Americans every year. Although the details surrounding IBS may seem uncomfortable or even embarrassing, the better you understand them, the easier it will be to respond correctly to IBS. You may not yet have a formal IBS diagnosis, but as we lean into IBS Awareness Month, you might decide it’s time to contact your doctor and speak honestly about the symptoms you endure.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The word “irritating” may sum up this disorder perfectly. When symptoms of IBS strike, the intestine is irritated. And the person suffering through the symptoms is irritated because their plans are certainly ruined by the inconvenience and discomfort of IBS. While the disorder is known to disrupt your life, it does not damage the tissue of your intestine or raise your risk for colon cancer. The symptoms of IBS are what make the disorder seem embarrassing or unbearable. Abdominal cramping or bloating are closely related to IBS as well as the potential for mucus in the stool or excess gas. Most people experience diarrhea or constipation—sometimes a combination of the two—when IBS strikes. Although IBS is chronic, there are ways you can prevent or minimize your symptoms.

Understanding IBS Triggers

In order to know how to reduce your symptoms, you first need to understand what causes the symptoms. These are known as triggers. Triggers do not cause IBS as a whole, but do provoke the onset of IBS symptoms. The most common trigger is food. Foods associated with IBS symptoms include carbonated beverages, cabbage, beans, citrus fruits, wheat products, and dairy products. If you notice your symptoms increasing in either severity or frequency after consuming these foods, it does not mean you have an allergy to them, but simply that they irritate your intestine. Another common trigger is stress. Again, stress does not cause IBS, but it does negatively affect your body and can play a major role in prompting symptoms. The third trigger is most commonly associated with women–hormones. Hormonal changes seem to affect symptoms of IBS and many women claim that their symptoms become more severe during their period.

How to Reduce Symptoms

Don’t be discouraged by the fact that there is not a cure for IBS or that you may not be able to control your symptoms, especially if they are triggered by hormones. While that is out of your control, there are other triggers within your control. Stress may be inevitable. Life happens, work never ends, deadlines quickly approach. But you can manage your stress by getting enough sleep and making physical activity a priority. Managing your stress may be equivalent to managing your IBS symptoms. You can also make adjustments to your diet and avoid trigger foods while adding in foods that are high in fiber. For those who experience gas and bloating, cut out alcohol, carbonated drinks, and caffeine. Avoid raw fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. If diarrhea is one of your symptoms, trying avoiding gluten. Even if you don’t have celiac disease, research indicates that diarrhea is reduced in IBS patients who skip products made from wheat, barley, and rye. Your symptoms may be so severe that medication is necessary. Regardless of how intense or frequent your IBS symptoms, it’s time you do something about it.

If you are concerned that you may be suffering from IBS, don’t wait another day to schedule an appointment at Asheville Gastroenterology, a division of Digestive Health Partners. Our team is here to help you better understand this disorder and find a solution that reduces your symptoms.