Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome compromises the well-being of those affected by it. Find out how to better manage it.

What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

No one wishes to experience the intestinal discomfort associated with IBS. From simple embarrassment, it can develop into a very painful condition. People who live with IBS are well aware of this and may struggle with:

  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • bloating
  • gassiness
  • heartburn
  • eructation (belching)
  • abdominal pain, and
  • cramps

These symptoms may go away for a period of time and then come back. Having a bowel movement may provide some relief. The intestinal discomfort associated with IBS is usually due to an imbalance in the digestion of certain foods, which may be due to decreased or increased activity in the small intestine or colon. Although unpleasant, IBS does not increase the risk of digestive cancer.

Who can suffer from IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome can appear at adolescence or in early adulthood. It is found in about 10% to 15% of adults and represents a significant cause of absenteeism at work. There are several known contributing factors and triggers of IBS, including:

  • genetic predisposition
  • infection, such as gastroenteritis
  • emotional or chronic stress
  • food poisoning
  • sedentariness
  • a decrease of the amount of “good” bacteria in the intestine
  • a hormonal imbalance that often occurs during menstruation
  • taking certain drugs, and
  • an intolerance to certain foods

The most common food intolerances observed in people living with IBS are:

  • lactose
  • caffeine
  • sugary drinks
  • alcohol
  • unhealthy fats
  • some fruits and vegetables, and
  • some sources of fibre, such as wheat or brown rice

How can symptoms be managed?

Making lifestyle changes is the first step towards better managing IBS symptoms. Here is some advice on symptom management.

  • Choose healthy eating habits.
    • Follow the recommendations in Canada’s Food Guide.
    • Drink plenty of water. Reduce your consumption of drinks that may irritate the digestive tract such as coffee, tea, soft drinks or alcoholic drinks.
    • Eat more frequently and opt for smaller portions.
    • Avoid foods that trigger your symptoms.
    • If needed, ask a nutrition specialist for advice.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain good sleep hygiene.
  • Use relaxation techniques to reduce your stress level.
  • Consider consulting a psychologist if IBS symptoms significantly affect your well-being and quality of life.

When lifestyle changes prove insufficient, supplements or medication may be considered. For example, fibre supplements (e.g. psyllium) or probiotics may be appropriate. Additionally, medications available with or without a prescription may be of interest. Here are some classes of medications that may be beneficial:

  • laxatives
  • antidiarrheal agents
  • antispasmodics
  • antidepressants
  • antianxiety agents
  • etc.

Always ask your pharmacist for advice before taking any supplement or medication, including those available over the counter. Pharmacists are always there to help you and answer your health-related questions!


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Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome compromises the well-being of people who are affected by it. Find out how to better manage it. 
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