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What is IBS: Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS):What you need to know

I.What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common condition with symptoms that affect the colon, or large bowel. These symptoms include abdominal pain or discomfort with changed bowel habits: either change in frequency (diarrhea or constipation) or change in the stool form (thin, soft or hard, or liquid).
IBS is not a critical condition and it won’t make a person more likely to develop other colon conditions. However, it can be a long-term problem which can significantly harm the quality of life in those who have it.

II.What causes IBS?
The causes of IBS are still unknown. People with IBS have extra sensitive muscles and nerves in the bowel. Muscles might contract too much when you eat. These contractions can result in cramps and diarrhea during or shortly after a meal, or the nerves might react when the bowel stretches, which causes cramps or pain.

III.What are the symptoms of IBS?
•Gas, bloating
•Discomfort in the abdomen or abdominal pain
•Chronic constipation, diarrhea, or a combination of both
•Whitish mucus in the stool

Symptoms of IBS can be triggered by:
1.Food: Many people have worse symptoms when they drink or eat certain foods or beverages. You should eat less from these foods or avoid them.

Foods that make IBS worse:
•Milk products, like cheese or ice cream
•Fatty foods, like french fries
•Wheat, rye, barley
•Caffeinated drinks, like coffee, tea, or colas
•Carbonated drinks, like soda which can result in gas and cause discomfort
•Chewing gum and eating too quickly can lead to swallowing air, which also leads to gas.

Foods that make IBS better:
•Fiber might help with the constipation associated with IBS by making the stool softer and easier to pass; though, it might not help with decreasing diarrhea or lowering pain. Some people who have more sensitive nerves might feel more abdominal discomfort after eating more fiber.
•Increasing fiber intake a little at a time by 2-3 g/day will help reduce the risk of increased bloating and gas, however, too much fiber at once can cause gases. Here are some examples of foods with fiber content:

Fruits: apples, peaches, tangerine
Vegetables: cabbage, broccoli (raw), carrots (raw), peas
Breads, cereals, and beans: kidney beans, whole-grain bread and cereal

•It is important to drink 6 to 8 glasses of plain water, especially if you have diarrhea.

2.Stress: People with IBS experience worse symptoms during periods of increased stress. Although stress may worsen symptoms, it doesn’t cause them.
3.Hormones: Women are twice more likely to suffer from IBS, which indicates that hormonal changes play a role and they often have more symptoms during their menstrual periods.

IV.How is IBS treated?
IBS has no cure; all you can do is to relieve symptoms. Treatment might involve diet changes and stress management. You may have to try a few things to see what works best for you.
To find out which foods trigger your symptoms or make them worse, keep a diary that tracks:
-What symptoms you have and when they occur.
-What you eat during the day and what foods always make you feel sick.

V.Tips that might help in relieving the symptoms:
•Low fat, high carbohydrates: Eating meals low in fat and high in carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, whole-grain breads and cereals fruits, and vegetables may help.
•Have small meals: Large meals can cause diarrhea and cramping in people with IBS. If this happens to you, try eating 4 or 5 small meals a day instead of less-frequent big meals.
•Stress relief: Learning how to reduce stress can help with IBS. With less stress, you may find you have less pain and cramping. In addition, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and counseling might help.

Christelle Bedrossian
Beirut, Lebanon

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Dietitian Christelle Bedrossian