Written and medically reviewed by Dorcas Morak, Pharm.D
April is IBS Awareness Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a common gastrointestinal disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It is estimated that up to 15% of the global population may have IBS, although many cases go undiagnosed.
What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?
IBS is a chronic condition that affects the large intestine, causing symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. These symptoms can be unpredictable and vary in severity from person to person, making it difficult to manage.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
You may experience some of the symptoms below; the symptoms may get better or worse over time.
- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhea or constipation, or both
IBS can have a significant impact on a person's quality of life, affecting their work, social life, and overall well-being. It can also lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
What causes IBS symptoms?
The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is not known. It has been linked with food, stress, family history, medication side effects, or oversensitive gut nerves. However, there is no particular food that causes IBS. You may observe that some foods make your symptoms better or worse. Stress also does not explicitly cause IBS, but may cause your symptoms to worsen. It can help to use an IBS symptoms diary to track your symptoms and see the pattern over time for a better management approach.
How is IBS diagnosed?
IBS diagnosis involves tests like colonoscopy, stool studies, and lab tests such as iron levels, complete blood count, and food allergy testing.
What are the types of IBS?
The type of IBS you have determines the treatment approach. IBS subtypes include:
- IBS-C (constipation): IBS characterized by a lot of constipation
- IBS-D (diarrhea): IBS characterized by loose stools
- IBS-M (mixed): IBS is characterized by alternating hard stool and loose stool
- IBS-U (unclassified): IBS with unclassified pattern
What is the treatment approach to IBS?
There is currently no cure for IBS, but there are ways to manage the symptoms. Treatment options include dietary changes, medication, and stress reduction techniques. It's essential to work with a healthcare provider to develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses individual symptoms and needs.
How can I treat IBS using a dietary approach?
Since different food triggers IBS, you can improve your symptoms by tracking and avoiding food that worsens your symptoms. Some dietary changes that can improve your symptoms include: eating more fiber, avoiding gluten-rich foods, avoiding high-FODMAP foods, and eating more low-FODMAP foods. Learn more about FODMAP here.
Which medications can I use for IBS?
Your symptoms and IBS subtype will determine the medication you should consider:
IBS-C: Over the counter (OTC) medications to soften your hard stool can relieve symptoms. If need be, you may use prescription medications such as Amitiza (lubiprostone), Linzess (linaclotide), and Trulance (plecanatide)
IBS-D: You may use OTC or prescription antidiarrheal medications to improve the symptoms of diarrhea. Examples of prescription medications to treat IBS-D are Xifaxan (rifaximin), alosetron (Lotronex), and Viberzi (eluxadoline)
IBS-M: Your symptoms of IBS-M can be improved with medications such as amitriptyline, nortriptyline, desipramine, dicyclomine (Bentyl), and probiotics.
What can I do to take part in IBS Awareness Month?
During IBS Awareness Month, organizations and advocates work to raise awareness about IBS and provide education about the condition. The goal is to reduce stigma, increase understanding, and encourage more people to seek help for their symptoms.
One way to get involved is to participate in events and activities organized by IBS advocacy organizations. Many organizations hold online events, social media campaigns, and other activities during the month of April to raise awareness about IBS.
You can also help raise awareness by sharing your own experiences with IBS on social media using the hashtag #IBSAwarenessMonth. By sharing your story, you can help reduce the stigma surrounding IBS and help others who may be struggling with the condition.
In addition to raising awareness, it's also important to support research into IBS. Research is essential to understanding the causes of IBS, developing new treatments, and improving the lives of people with the condition.
If you have IBS or know someone who does, take the opportunity this April to raise awareness and support efforts to find better treatments and a cure. By working together, we can help improve the lives of millions of people living with IBS.