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What is irritable bowel syndrome?

By July 15, 2014 - 5:48pm
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I hear irritable bowel syndrome is common, what are the symptoms? My stomach seems to always be upset and I can't figure out if it's certain foods i'm eating or not.

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HERWriter Guide

Hi John

I was diagnosed with IBS and it's a pretty miserable condition. 

The bowel is literally irritated and sometimes inflamed and this can be caused by the foods we eat, stress or even have the root cause in a virus (that was the case with me). But there is no known cause. 

Some people have diarrhea, some have constipation and some have both. 

The cause is unknown. With IBS, the muscles in the colon do not work normally and may spasm. If you have IBS, your colon may be more sensitive, reacting strongly to food and medication. Food allergies and certain bacteria may add to the symptoms. IBS may also occur after having the stomach flu (called gastroenteritis ).

Risk Factors

These factors increase your chance of developing IBS:

  • Sex: female
  • Family members with IBS
  • Age: typically begins in young adulthood
  • Stress
  • Abuse (may be associated with IBS)


There is no cure for IBS. Treatment focuses on controlling symptoms.


The following changes to your diet may help control symptoms:

  • Keep a food diary of what you eat and how your body responds. Share this with your doctor. You may have a food allergy.
  • Make gradual changes to your diet. Record the results.
  • Avoid foods that have caused problems in the past. A dietitian can help you substitute foods.
  • Avoid foods and drinks that may cause symptoms:
    • High fat foods, spicy foods
    • Dairy products
    • Onions, cabbage, and other gas-producing food
    • Large amounts of alcohol or caffeine
  • Eat foods that may reduce the chance of spasm, such as:
  • Eat smaller meals more often or smaller portions.
  • Eat slowly and try not to swallow air.
  • Drink plenty of water. This will help to reduce constipation.


Stress Management

Talk to your doctor about ways to reduce stress , such as:



Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe:

  • Antibiotic (Rifaximinmay help symptoms for several months.)
  • Antispasmodic agent (eg,dicyclomine)
  • High-fiber bulking agent (eg,psyllium)
  • Antidiarrheal agent (eg,loperamide)
  • Low-dose antidepressant
  • Peppermint oil
  • Pain reliever (eg,acetaminophen)—A study showed modest benefit of acetaminophen for treatment of crampy abdominal pain in patients with IBS.
  • Serotonin receptor agonists and antagonists—may be helpful for women (eg,alosetronfor diarrhea)
    • Note:Tegaserod, a medicine used for constipation, was withdrawn from the market in March 2007. This was due to a slightly increased risk ofheart attack,angina, andstroke.
  • Probiotics("friendly" bacteria)—may be helpful, but talk to your doctor before taking

John, I think it's a really good idea to see your doctor about this. IBS is really difficult to live with and you should see a specialist about this. 

Will you let us know how it goes?

For more on IBS, click here: 




July 18, 2014 - 11:08am
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