Living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Having irritable bowel syndrome
is different for different people. If you're like some, it bothers you now
and then; it's a minor inconvenience, but doesn't have much control over your
life. If you're like others, you worry about going out in public at all because
you never know when you're going to have an episode of cramping and diarrhea.
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS,
is a disorder of the large intestine. Symptoms tend to begin sometime from early
adulthood to about age 40. They range from mild to severe, and can include
Cramping and pain in the lower abdomen
Alternating diarrhea and constipation
Some people experience symptoms
nearly every day, while others have symptoms only every now and then.
There's no known cause
IBS, which has also been called
spastic colon, is considered a "functional disorder." This means
that the intestines seem fine in appearance, but the intestinal muscles contract
for longer periods of time and with more force than in people who don't have
So far, nobody has been able to
identify why people develop IBS. They do know that certain foods can trigger
it, and so can stress.
Food and IBS
If you have irritable bowel syndrome, figuring out which foods to eat can
be a big challenge. If diarrhea is a common problem for you, avoiding fatty
foods could help. High fiber foods can help control diarrhea and constipation,
but they may also increase intestinal gas and cause cramping, so add fiber
to your diet gradually. Additionally, some people find it helpful to eat smaller,
more frequent meals instead of three larger meals per day.
Some of the foods that commonly
cause problems for people with IBS include:Fatty foods, such as French fries
(these may cause diarrhea)
Beans, cabbage and fruit may cause
Milk products, like cheese or ice
Keeping a food diary can help you
determine which foods bother your condition the most. Keep track of everything
you eat (including tobacco, alcohol and caffeine), and note every symptom.
Over time, a pattern may emerge that identifies foods to stick with and foods
to stay away from.
Exercise can help
If you have irritable bowel syndrome, exercise may be one good way to get
relief from your symptoms. Regular exercise helps normalize bowel function.
It also helps relieve stress, which can aggravate IBS.
The pain and cramping that comes
with IBS can make it difficult to feel motivated to start an exercise routine.
Begin slowly. Gradually exercise for longer periods of time. Ask your doctor
or other healthcare provider for advice about the types of exercises that
would be best for you.
Take an active role in stress
The stress of IBS can escalate
over time. It's stressful to have unpleasant episodes of cramping and diarrhea.
In between episodes, you may feel anxiety as you wonder when your next episode
will occur. It's important to do what you can to get this stress and anxiety
under control. Consider trying one or a combination of the following:
Yoga, qigong or t'ai chi. These
practices are relaxing and meditative. They can help you learn to live in the
moment, which is a great way to help reduce stress.
Meditation or simple breathing exercises.
These too, can help you to relax your mind and body and to look at life with
a different, calmer perspective.
Counseling. An objective professional
can listen to what's going on with you and offer suggestions about ways to get
things under control.
Medications for IBSAn over-the-counter fiber supplement
if high-fiber foods cause cramping
Here are some medication options you may want to discuss with your doctor:
An over-the-counter antidiarrheal
drug if diarrhea is a problem for you
Prescription medications, such as
tricyclic antidepressants, calcium channel blockers, somatostatin analogs and
serotonergic antagonists, depending on your pattern of illness
Living with IBS
Having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can have a big impact on your life.
If it's severe enough, it can affect your ability to go to work and participate
fully in other aspects of your life. There can also be a sense of shame associated
with the condition, because we live in a society where some people are reluctant
even to use the word "bowel."
If you know someone who has IBS,
let that person know you understand how difficult it is. Your compassion will
be appreciated. If you have IBS yourself, it may help to get involved with
others who have the condition. Visit the International Foundation for Functional
Gastrointestinal Disorders (http://www.iffgd.org/).
You can find information about IBS, sign up to get a newsletter and stay aware
of developments in the field.
Certainly, if you have experienced
the symptoms of IBS but haven't seen a doctor about them, make an appointment
today. Studies show that about half the people who have IBS don't seek treatment.
A doctor can diagnose your condition and then work with you to help you learn
how to manage it so that you can live as normal a life as possible.
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders;