What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

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Irritable bowel syndrome is a common condition affecting the gastrointestinal tract. The exact cause of the condition is unknown but many individuals with IBS suspect that the diet plays a vital role in triggering the symptoms. Remember that not all individuals suffering from IBS experience food-related issues.

It is best to consider the symptoms experienced by the individual such as alternating episodes of constipation, spasmodic abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating and excessive gas. Even though this might indicate IBS, these symptoms or changes in the bowel habits should be carefully assessed by a doctor since there are other bowel conditions that should be ruled out first before a diagnosis of IBS can be made.

Symptoms of IBS

The symptoms of IBS can be managed with treatment such as bulking agents, anti-spasmodic medications, laxatives or stool softeners. In case foods are the trigger, these are be easily investigated by studying the diet. It is recommended to keep a detailed food and symptom diary in order to identify the possible triggers. Since IBS is not likely to be IgE-mediated, there are no reliable tests that can help identify these foods.

Useful tips in managing IBS

It is vital to maintain a regular meal pattern to achieve a regular bowel pattern. Skipping on breakfast can cause the bowels to miss out a vital reflex triggered by the first meal of the day. Fluids particularly water can help keep the bowel soft. It is recommended to maintain 8-10 glasses in a day or more during warm days or when exercising. In addition, aim for 5 portions of vegetables or fruits every day. The fiber from vegetables and fruits can help regulate the bowel and consistency of the stool.

It is best to consider the symptoms experienced by the individual such as alternating episodes of constipation, spasmodic abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating and excessive gas.

If the individual suffers from diarrhea, it is best to take a look at his/her lifestyle. It is best to eat regularly since it is beneficial. Large amounts of acidic or caffeine-based beverages might be responsible for diarrhea.

Diarrhea during IBS

The diarrhea symptoms with IBS might indicate food intolerance. The symptoms can last for a few hours up to 48 hours after eating, thus it might be difficult to determine the culprit. It is important to keep a food and symptom diary at least 2 weeks to check if a pattern emerges. The moment the food is identified, it is time to think whether it affects the diet. In case it is a major food group such as wheat or milk that could not be tolerated and should be excluded from the diet, supervision with a dietician is required.

If the trigger food could not be identified, the dietician might suggest an exclusion diet which requires careful interpretation and monitoring. A vitamin or mineral supplement might be required while these investigations are ongoing.

Remember that bloating might also be a symptom on its own or occur along with diarrhea or constipation. There are certain foods that can cause excessive bloating and gas. The common foods include artichokes, onions, lentils, baked beans, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, fizzy drinks, under-ripe bananas and food that has been cooked, cooled and reheated.

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