Irritable Bowel Syndrome

It’s hard enough keeping your digestive system running smoothly when you’re healthy, but when you have a gastrointestinal disorder like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it becomes even more complicated. It means thinking carefully about everything you eat and having to account for it when you’re planning your day-to-day life.

We don’t know exactly what causes IBS, but it appears more likely after you’ve had certain types of infections, particularly gastroenteritis. Fungi and protozoa may make a contribution, as can bacteria. Some people may be genetically predisposed to IBS, but external factors like stress may help trigger it.

Just as we don’t know exactly what causes IBS, there’s no test to identify it. Diagnosis involves the observation of symptoms and tests (including blood tests, stool cultures and abdominal ultrasounds) to rule out other potential causes. The symptoms in question include acute stomach pains and, perhaps unsurprisingly, trouble with bowel movements. This could be diarrhea or constipation. IBS is a condition that is often misdiagnosed or dismissed, so obtaining official confirmation can be a long and difficult process.

We also don’t know how to cure IBS. Treatment is pretty much all about management, and that generally starts with diet. Some foods are going to be more aggravating to IBS, while others may alleviate it. How everyone experiences their IBS may vary, but common changes to diet that may be effective include increasing your fiber consumption while cutting back on gluten and dairy. It may take some time to determine what’s best for you.

Other more specialized treatments include the use of human milk oligosaccharides, also known as human milk glycans, a type of simple sugar often found in breast milk. They’re part of what allows the human immune system to develop, but they also feed the good bacteria in your gut that’s so essential to healthy digestion. Similarly, probiotics have also been used to try and manage IBS.

People with IBS also tend to suffer more with their mental health, experiencing an increased risk of depression. Antidepressants and/or counseling may be important to help a patient with IBS understand their condition better and give them the mental tools needed to manage it effectively.

IBS is irritating to more than just the gut, so being informed about the condition and building good relationships with experts is vital to developing the best management plan for you.

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