If you are wondering “What is IBS???” or looking to learn more about IBS, this page is a great place to start.
(Note: if you are looking for a dietitian to help you with managing IBS or any other digestive issue, click here to learn about my nutrition services!)
Digestive Health & IBS
Even though it is not often openly discussed, digestive health is a major concern to Canadians. More than 20 million Canadians suffer from digestive disorders each year, according to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation (CDHF).
One of the most common digestive disorders in Canada is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Canadians have a lifetime risk of 30% of developing IBS, according to the GI Society. The CDHF estimates that 5 million Canadians suffer from IBS currently, with twice as many females suffering than men. IBS is characterized by the long-term occurrence of irregular bowel movements, and certain digestive symptoms. The digestive symptoms include bloating, distention, abdominal pain, cramping, gas, nausea, constipation and diarrhea. An individual may experience some or all of the digestive symptoms. IBS is not life threatening, but can still have a big impact on quality of life and productivity, ranging from mild to severe.
Diagnosis & Subtypes
There is no definitive test to diagnose IBS. IBS is diagnosed based on symptoms and stool patterns. There is also no cure for IBS. Some IBS sufferers may experience a spontaneous or gradual resolution/end of their symptoms, but most do not experience a resolution and deal with symptoms long-term.
The exact cause of IBS is unknown. It is believed that symptoms may be in part caused by disturbances in the motility and sensitivity of the intestines. Gut motility effects the transit time of food through the digestive system (aka how fast food moves from the mouth to the toilet). Changes to gut motility can affect stool consistency, and therefore cause diarrhea and/or constipation. The four subtypes of IBS are based on stool consistency:
Individuals with IBS-M experience both constipation and diarrhea, and individuals with IBS-U do not fit into any of the other categories.
Despite the many unpleasant symptoms, only approximately 40% of those with IBS seek medical assistance, and the rest typically self-treat, according to the CDHF. If you someone is experiencing digestive symptoms long-term, they should contact their family doctor to get help and to rule out other digestive disorders.
Treatment options focus on symptom management. There are many different methods of IBS symptom management, each with varying effectiveness. Some methods of symptom management include the use of pharmaceuticals, alternative therapies, supplements and lifestyle modifications (e.g., dietary, physical activity, etc.)
Since I am a dietitian, my blog focuses on dietary/lifestyle methods of managing symptoms. There are many simple dietary changes you can make which may help decrease symptoms. If those simple changes are not effective, you can consider hiring a dietitian to help you implement a specialized IBS diet known as the Low FODMAP Diet. I have also written about my personal experience with IBS and this diet.