Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition caused by problems with motility in the large intestine. Essentially, with IBS, the large intestine is not functioning properly and is not moving food along at a normal rate, which leads to pain and symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea and constipation.
The prevalence of IBS in Europe and North America is estimated to be between 10-15%, with women being more commonly affected than men. Patients are typically between the ages of 15 and 65 with most patients being between the ages of 30-50 by the time they are first seen by a physician.
Several different factors are at play with IBS. Studies show a strong correlation with anxiety (70% of patients) and depression (46% of patients). Stress also plays a significant role. When we are worried or anxious, our body preferentially diverts blood flow to our large muscles so that we are ready to take action in the case of a physical threat. This leaves less blood and resources available for proper and normal digestion. It is therefore not surprising that negative life events, distress and poor coping mechanisms are all associated with the onset of IBS.
The diagnostic criteria for IBS is fairly straightforward, albeit, other conditions need to be ruled out first. If you have had abdominal pain for more than 6 months that affects you more than 3 days per month, and if this pain is improved with defecation, associated with a change in stool frequency (or stool form) you may have IBS.
Most people with IBS can control their symptoms with diet, exercise and stress management. When it comes to food, the triggers vary but most patients report more severe symptoms when they eat certain things such as chocolate, spices, beans, cruciferous vegetables, milk and alcohol. Periods of more intense stress such as starting a new job or exams are also known to worsen symptoms. Since women are more commonly affected than men, it is believed that hormonal changes can also play a role in IBS.
More specific recommendations include the elimination of high-gas foods (such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, raw fruits and carbonated beverages), gluten and FODMAPs. FODMAPs are types of carbohydrates (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) found in certain grains, vegetables, fruits and dairy products.
Fiber supplements can also be very helpful especially when it comes to controlling the symptoms of constipation. FibreLean® which contains soluble and insoluble fiber constitutes an excellent choice.
Probiotics such as Ultimate Probiotic are also known to have beneficial effects on global IBS symptoms, abdominal pain, bloating and flatulence scores.