Not to worry! IBS is totally manageable with a combination of approaches, says Andrea CostaBir.
Hmmmm… we all poo, don’t we?! Obviously, women are no exception – they go through period-time poo, over drinking from the previous night out with the gals poo, over gorging on yummy delights poo… Sporadic poo or bloat problems are inconsequential and are best ignored. But if consistent abdominal cramps, bloating, constipation, belly pain or diarrhoea are playing havoc with your body and life, it’s best to sit up and take note. For, these symptoms suggest you could have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and stop you from living your best life.
So what exactly is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)? It is a disorder impacting the intestine, and comprises issues with motility (movement of digested food through the intestines) and sensitivity (how the brain interprets signals from the intestinal nerves). This leads to abdominal pain, bloating, cramps and changes in bowel patterns among various other discomforts. IBS can be unsettling, devastating and awkward, but take comfort in the fact that it is not life-threatening, neither does it lead to cancer or any other serious illnesses.
Fact Check: IBS befalls more women than men
While the exact reason for IBS has not yet been ascertained, medical experts reiterate that gender plays a crucial role in begetting IBS. Though the reasons as to why IBS prevails in more women than men has to be thoroughly researched, in reference to symptoms, women are more likely to report abdominal pain and constipation-related symptoms, while diarrhoea-related symptoms are more common among men. The exhaustive data on IBS is still limited, but it has almost been established that sex hormones contribute to these gender differences.
Diagnosed with IBS? Ok… here’s the first step: DON’T PANIC!
No matter how IBS is impacting your life and making you feel, realize it is manageable. All it takes is a combination of treatments/approaches to deal with it, as every person is different and faces diverse symptoms. Follow these practical treatments to tame your tummy and kiss your woes goodbye
Make diet changes
- Research has demonstrated that soluble fibre is helpful for IBS (2). Slowly increase dietary fibre by 2 to 4 grams per day to avert discomfort and stimulate soft, painless stools. Note: large servings of fibre may worsen IBS, so track your food intake and your symptoms, and discuss with your doctor.
- Ensure you drink 6-8 glasses of fluid daily (shun carbonated beverages).
- Chewing gum and eating quickly, which causes gas, should be avoided.
Eat low FODMAP foods
This diet consists of avoiding short- chain carbohydrates that are difficult to digest, poorly absorbed by the small intestine and rapidly fermented in the colon. FODMAPs are found in varied foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, milk products and sweetening agents. FODMAPs move through the digestive tract to the large intestine (colon), where they draw water into the colon and are rapidly fermented (digested) by naturally-occurring gut bacteria. The fermentation of FODMAPs produces gas and other by-products. As each person has an individual threshold for tolerating FODMAPs, a diet that initially reduces the intake of high FODMAP foods and then through the process of reintroduction determines what high FODMAP’s are triggering an aggravation of symptoms and then personalizes it —-might help relieve IBS symptoms.
Shut out stress
Sometimes, when one is deeply stressed just before a work presentation or an exam, one ends up pooping. This is why stress management is very important if you have IBS. When we are stressed, our gut and brain continuously communicate with each other. These interactions lead to the inception of symptoms or worsen symptoms. Women suffering from IBS report lower quality of life, more fatigue, depressed mood, lower self-control and higher levels of anxiety than men with IBS (1).
Discuss your issues with your family and friends; seeking the support you need. Share with them that IBS is an exercise in finding out what works best for you – so it will require you to research and experiment. This will take effort and time; hence, you may not always be available for every outing planned.
Work your way through IBS… here’s how!
- Meditate – relaxation techniques like deep breathing and visualization help you stay calm.
- Exercise – regular walking, swimming and yoga will benefit you enormously.
- Sleep well – relax and ensure you get your full sleep requirement.
- Take support – from an online/offline group.
- Indulge in ‘me time’ – take time out on the weekend to follow your passion/do something you love. Relax to stay calm yet energized all through the week.
In case dietary tactics have been unsuccessful in relieving your IBS symptoms, recommended probiotic doses might help. They are available in capsules/tablet/powder forms, and can also be found in fortified yogurts and fermented milk products. Remember: Not all probiotics are alike, plus they are not medicine. So wisely choose a proven safe product that offers benefits for the precise symptoms you want relieved. Ask your doctor, pharmacist or dietician which probiotic could work for you.
Also, refer to the Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products in Canada’, and look for the indication “IBS” besides the probiotic strain and brand that’s correct for you. Incidentally, this guide has the most recent information on the best probiotic forms identified, and interprets scientific evidence available for probiotic products into practical, clinically relevant information.
Connect with your doctor and ask for help!
The line of treatment not only depends on your IBS sub-category: IBS-C (Constipation), IBS-D (Diarrhoea), IBS-M (Mixed) or IBS unclassified, but also on your individual condition. Medications approved in Canada for IBS (over the counter or prescription) can help relieve your symptoms. So, connect with your doctor for relief and take heart – as millions of people live with IBS; you are not alone.
Ok girl, we now know that you’ve got this! Take care of your IBS, take charge of your life, realize your dreams and go, conquer the world!
(1) Kim, Young Sun, and Nayoung Kim. “Sex-Gender Differences in Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” Journal of neurogastroenterology and motility vol. 24,4 (2018): 544-558. doi:10.5056/jnm18082
(2) Moayyedi P, Quigley EM, Lacy BE et al. The effect of fiber supplementation on irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2014;109(9):1367–1374.