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. It can evolve from simple embarrassment to a very painful condition. Individuals living with IBS are well aware of this and can struggle with:
- eructation (belching)
- abdominal pain
- cramps, and
- diarrhea or constipation
Symptoms can disappear for a more or less lengthy period, then reappear. Having a bowel movement may provide some relief. The intestinal discomfort associated with IBS is generally due to an imbalance which affects the digestion of certain foods—a decrease or increase of activity in the small intestine or colon may be responsible. Although it is unpleasant, IBS does not increase the risk of cancer of the digestive tract.
Who can suffer from IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome can appear at adolescence or in early adulthood. It is found in about 20% 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
- a decrease of the amount of “good” bacteria in the intestine
- a hormonal imbalance which 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:
- sweet drinks
- bad 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 the Canada Food Guide.
- Drink plenty of water. Reduce your consumption of irritating drinks such as coffee, tea, and 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.
Ask your pharmacist if taking certain supplements (probiotics, ground flaxseed, etc.) or medication (prescription or over-the-counter) could be beneficial.
Remember that your pharmacist is always there to help you and to answer your questions concerning any health issues!