Cramps, bloating, puffiness in your belly area, constipation and diarrhea — stomach problems are never fun. While a simple upset stomach won’t last forever, a condition called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be ongoing. Knowing which one is cramping your style and killing your vibe is important.
“Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a disease with a collection of symptoms like abdominal pain, abdominal cramps, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. It significantly reduces a patient’s quality of life. It is very common and is not life-threatening. There is no anatomical or structural problem in the gut in people suffering from IBS. It is a lifelong syndrome, a patient typically will have symptoms that will come and go and are exacerbated by stress, emotional changes, or certain food items,” says Dr.Ruchit B.Patel, consultant Gastroenterologist, Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai Central.
The main symptoms of IBS are belly pain along with a change in bowel habits. This can include constipation, diarrhea, or both. You may get cramps in your belly or feel like your bowel movement isn’t finished. Many people who have it feel gassy and notice that their abdomen is bloated. Persistent pain and frequent trips to the bathroom can make everyday life harder.
“Bleeding in the rectum, night diarrhoea, unexplainable weight loss, anaemia, unusual vomiting, difficulty swallowing, pain in the stomach area that is not linked to gas or bowel movement are symptoms that warrant a doctor’s visit,” says Dr. Veerendra Sandur, Lead Consultant – Medical Gastroenterology, Aster RV Hospital, JP Nagar, Bengaluru.
While there is no single cause for IBS, “There is no definite cause. It may be due to altered movement of the small and large intestine, hypersensitivity of intestine, psychological factors like stress, coping with stress, depression, anxiety. Particularly childhood stress may be a more important cause. Intolerance to some type of food can also trigger IBS,”says Dr. Jayaraj SP, Consultant – Medical Gastroenterologist, Columbia Asia Hospital Sarjapur Road, Bengaluru (A unit of Manipal Hospitals).
Dr Purshottam Vashistha, Senior Consultant, Gastroenterology, Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital, believes muscles contractions in the intestinal walls help to move food through digestive tract and weaker contractions can lead to indigestion and dryer defecation causing IBS. Bacterial overgrowth or changes in the gut flora can also cause IBS.
It’s also more likely to affect people who have a family history of IBS. Symptoms usually start before you’re 35 years old. It’s uncommon for people over 50 to get IBS for the first time. “In India, IBS is more common among women. Estrogen therapy before or after menopause also is a risk factor for IBS. Also, a family history of IBS may increase the chances. Genes may play a role, as may shared factors in a family’s environment or a combination of genes and environment,” shares Dr. Waseem Ahmed – MBBS/DNB Family Medicine, Loop Health.
The treatment plan will depend on specific symptoms and triggers, but many people start with diet changes. It may help to eat smaller meals and foods that are lower in fat.
Dr Ahmed adds, “Many patients improve with proper counseling, motivation and behavioral therapy which play a major role in treating functional bowel disorders because mental health is directly intertwined with the performance of the gastrointestinal system.”
1. Elimination of dietary fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) is considered to be helpful in IBS. First stage is substitution of foods with low FODMAP choices. “Low FODMAP foods include lettuces, carrots, chives, cucumber among others. Second stage is a gradual reintroduction of foods into the diet while assessing symptoms; and the third stage is personalization of the diet to avoid foods that trigger symptoms,” says Dr Lovekesh Anand, Consultant – Gastroenterology, HCMCT Manipal Hospital, Dwarka New Delhi
2. “Include adopting healthy eating patterns, such as regular small volume meals and adequate fiber intake,” says Dr. Nripen Saikia, Senior Consultant, Gastroenterology, PSRI Hospital.
3. “Limit alcohol and caffeine intake and reduce consumption of fatty and spicy foods. Avoiding milk in case of known lactose intolerance,” adds Dr Saikia.
4. Physical activity can help with digestion, reduce stress, and improve your mood. Go for low-impact activities at first that won’t jar the digestive tract
5. “Foods that have been cooked and left out to cool – for example, cold potato/pasta salads, and ready to eat meals should be avoided,” adds Dr Anand