Getting Help for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

help with irritable bowel syndrome

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If you and your doctor have already discussed you actually having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), then you’re in the right place. However, if you’re just self-diagnosing on this one, you need to get a professional opinion. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not condemning self-diagnoses, but the internet tends to make everyone feel like they have a PhD in medicine. For smaller issues, that’s not really a big deal. But what most don’t realize is how often symptoms of one condition can mimic another, often much more dangerous condition. For example, if you merely suspect you have IBS without a healthcare practitioner confirming this, you could be wrong. Because IBS includes symptoms very similar to inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, pancreatic problems, endometriosis, gallstones, and more.

Bottom line: if you’re uncertain about an IBS diagnosis, get some verification first. You don’t want to treat IBS only to find out you now have something far worse that could have been avoided if you had caught a long time ago.

The next thing we need to address is that there are two different kinds of IBS. One is the kind that involves constipation, called IBS-C. The other is the kind that involves diarrhea, called IBS-D. That shouldn’t be too difficult to keep up with. That brings us to the crux of this article: since these intestinal woes are on opposite ends of the spectrum, they obviously need to be treated differently. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t open this by reminding you that gut problems are rooted in bad bacteria. More on that here.

Treating IBS-C

So, we know that IBS-C deals with the issue of constipation. For clarity, the Mayo Clinic explains that, “Chronic constipation is infrequent bowel movements or difficult passage of stools that persists for several weeks or longer. Constipation is generally described as having fewer than three bowel movements a week.” Note that we are not talking about random or occasional constipation. That’s not uncommon at all. Rather, IBS-C means it’s an ongoing and pervasive problem. That makes it even more important that you discuss it with your physician, including various treatment methods.

A lot of people self-medicate with laxatives, but long-term use of those can cause other health risks. The easiest thing to start with are some simple diet changes. For example, get rid of trigger foods. Oh, you don’t know what those are? Then keep a “journal.” I put that in quotes for lazy people like me who barely want to make a note. So, just grab a sheet of paper and jot down what you ate and when you had constipation issues. When you start to see patterns, remove those foods and see what happens. It’s practically magic.

Also, nix as many processed foods as you can and increase foods that are high in fiber. Experts advise that you gradually add in a little more fiber each day. Otherwise you’ll shock the system and feel the true wrath of an irritable bowel. And don’t forget the water! Dehydration (whether you feel it or not) can make bowel movements impossible and also lead to a related problem of painful hemorrhoids.

If these changes aren’t working or, for some reason, simply aren’t achievable for you, talk to your doctor about prescription options. These include IBS-specific medications, as well as antidepressants and antispasmodics. Of course, there are alternative options such as behavioral therapy and acupuncture if you’d prefer to avoid the prescription route.

Treating IBS-D

When the body is struggling to absorb water from food and produces an excess of fluids in the intestines, it causes a violent push of stool through the intestines. That is diarrhea. Your body is not able to properly digest the food and get the nutrients and hydration it needs, despite your water intake. That’s why diarrhea can actually be fatal if left unchecked.

Even though the body’s response with IBS-D is different than IBS-C, it is still helpful to keep a journal of what you’re eating. This won’t do you any good unless you also note your bowel situation. I’ll leave those details to you. The point is, again, to look for patterns. Once you can identify foods that are triggers, start eliminating them from you diet and notice the difference. There are some foods, however, that are definite IBS-D triggers that you will probably figure out very quickly on your own. Experts say to “avoid chocolate, fried foods, alcohol, caffeine, carbonated drinks, the artificial sweetener sorbitol (found in sugarless gum and mints), and fructose (the sugar in honey and many fruits).”

“But you just sucked all the joy out of my life with those diet changes,” you tell me. Nah…there are plenty of alternatives out there. Just start removing these one at a time. And search for replacement options as you go along.

Unlike IBS-C, you will want to limit (does not mean eliminate) your fiber intake to keep IBS-D under control. And if that still doesn’t work, quickly talk to your doctor about other options. There are over-the-counter medications like anti-diarrheals and even antibiotics in the case of infections. But there are prescription options as well, including nerve pain medications. The Mayo Clinic also recommends therapies like biofeedback and cognitive behavioral therapy.

What changes have you made that were effective for you? Did it help permanently or did you have to alter your diet or medications again later on down the road?