If you’re experiencing stomach cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, it’s possible that you have symptoms of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).
Though you might have already been told you have IBS, the tricky thing is that it can show itself in any number of ways. Whilst one person may experience constipation, another may find themselves experiencing chronic diarrhea and nausea. IBS symptoms are highly individualized, so it’s completely normal to feel confused about how to get your symptoms - whatever they might be - under control.
I think I have IBS: what now?
If you’re concerned about IBS symptoms, the first thing you should know is: you are not alone.
Between 11-15% of the US population has IBS; that’s about 35-50 million fellow Americans, all sharing symptoms like yours. To put this in perspective, that’s also the same amount of Americans who come down with the flu each year.
However, this doesn’t stop IBS feeling like a limiting, embarrassing and isolating condition. In fact, for many people, the symptoms of IBS can make life grind to a halt.
Despite how common IBS is, there is very little clear advice about how to get your symptoms under control. That leaves many people stuck with an exercise of trial and error to better understand what soothes their specific triggers.
For some, following an exclusion diet to avoid foods which act as triggers for your IBS symptoms can make the condition more manageable. For others, they need to focus on getting more sleep and less stress.
It’s not what you want to hear, we know: but there’s no one-size-fits all approach to living with IBS. Only once you know what IBS is like for you, can you begin to design your own coping strategies.
So, what exactly are the symptoms of IBS?
As you know, IBS affects different people in different ways.
IBS symptoms may, or may not, include:
- Abdominal pain and/or discomfort
- Lower back pain
- Bouts of diarrhea, combined with periods of constipation
As a result of these conditions and pains, IBS sufferers often also find themselves tired, anxious and even depressed.
It’s estimated that more than half of those with IBS in the US are undiagnosed, perhaps because the symptoms are so varied that often people don’t realise they are, in fact, linked.
Even if you’re hesitant to speak up about your symptoms — we get it, talking about your toilet habits is not the easiest thing in the world — try to remember that doctors will have seen and heard a lot worse. IBS can seriously impact your quality of life, which is why you should prioritize getting your diagnosis if you haven’t already. That way, you can start taking back control of your bowels.
In order to diagnose you, your doctor will want to know what symptoms you experience and how long you’ve been struggling with them. Keeping a symptoms diary — noting down when you’ve felt stomach cramp coming on, or have all of a sudden needed to use the toilet urgently — can be a great resource during conversations with your doctor, and can help take some of the pressure off you to communicate your IBS experiences without feeling embarrassed.
Usually a medical professional will require your symptoms to have been occurring for a minimum of six months to be sure of their diagnosis. Your symptoms diary can help evidence this, which should help you get a diagnosis as quickly as possible.
Are female IBS symptoms the same?
A doctor may also ask you some gender-specific questions, as female IBS symptoms can be different to IBS symptoms in men.
Women tend to experience IBS more frequently than men, and are generally diagnosed during childbearing years.
IBS symptoms in women tend to correlate strongly with menstrual cycles, for example, women with IBS are likely to experience more abdominal pain and diarrhea during their period, as well as bloating and constipation after they have ovulated.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that female IBS symptoms may also worsen during pregnancy, though conclusive research is lacking on this topic.
Men are far less likely than women to report IBS to a doctor, so there is little evidence about male-specific IBS symptoms. This may because the hormonal constitution of the male gut makes it less susceptible to the symptoms of IBS or, as is seen in many other other medical conditions, men may just seek help less than women.
What your doctor will ask during an IBS diagnosis
Fortunately, unlike its symptoms, the IBS diagnosis experience is more predictable. You can rely on your doctor to ask a number of set questions when diagnosing Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
This criteria — referred to in the medical world as the Rome IV Criteria for Diagnosing IBS — looks a bit like this:
- Whether you’ve suffered from recurrent abdominal pain on average at least one day per week over the last three months, and
- Whether the pain was associated with at least two of the following:
- Defecation (either increasing or decreasing pain)
- A change in how often you’re using the toilet
- A change in form (appearance) of your stools
Before you meet with your medical professional, prepare your answers to the above questions to help the process move as swiftly as possible. We have guide for that here.
You can manage your IBS, with the right know-how
Healthcare professionals believe IBS may be caused by a breakdown in communication between the intestines and the brain. This makes the condition difficult to cure entirely; mixed messaging from nerve endings, unbalanced intestinal microbiome and a dysfunctional intestinal barrier has no easy fix.
That’s why diagnosis is the first step towards managing your IBS; life gets just that little bit easier, as soon as you know what you’re working with.
Once diagnosed, you can start to establish a lifestyle to alleviate your symptoms.
This may mean:
Following an irritable bowel syndrome diet: for some people, certain foods (and alcohol) are IBS triggers. Keeping a food diary so that you can identify your trigger foods can therefore be a helpful step in getting your symptoms under control. Increasing your fiber intake and trying food plans like the FODMAP diet can also help
A word of caution here: IBS is often caused (or at least worsened) by a gut imbalance, so be mindful of changing your diet as this could make your already sensitive stomach worse. Speak with a nutritionist for advice before trying any kind of dietary changes.
- Using prescription medication: certainly, medical drugs are the answer for some people, whilst for others the side effects outweigh the benefits. Your medical professional will be able to help you make the right choice for your personal symptoms, so seek advice from your doctor to discuss if medication may be a good solution for you.
- Finding natural alternatives or over-the-counter medication: many IBS patients try probiotic supplements and essential oils to help ease their symptoms. Our team has developed a new and unique generation of non-prescription IBS products; maybe these will work for you?
- Aiming for a happy, healthy lifestyle: health conditions don’t occur in isolation. Avoiding stress where possible and getting enough sleep, every night, will contribute to your overall health and wellbeing, helping manage your IBS.
When flexing your lifestyle post-IBS diagnosis, try not to jump headfirst into anything new and unfamiliar. You can never be entirely sure how your body will react to cutting out a food group, for example.
As such, you should approach the above methods as trial and error. Don’t persist with a potential remedy if it seems to be causing more harm than good.
But even if you feel you’re constantly coming up against obstacles, and each pathway just seems to make your symptoms worse, have faith that you will find something that works for you.
Don’t try to go it alone!
Between medical assistance and the large number of fellow IBS patients out there today, there really is no need to try to battle through IBS on your own.
Even if you’re feeling unsettled, self conscious, or just downright falling apart; support is always there for you.
And so are we.
Holigos™ is a new family of non-prescription products that are clinically proven to help with symptoms related to IBS. Click below to find out more about our unique approach to managing IBS.