Although it’s a condition few people talk about, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects as many as one in five people, about two-thirds of them women. Its symptoms can impact a person’s ability to work or socialize.
Irritable bowel syndrome, a digestive-system disorder resulting from an improperly functioning colon, or large intestine, can cause abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, gas, mucus in the stool and episodes of chronic constipation or diarrhea (often with urgency) or alternating bouts of both. Although IBS can’t be cured, most people can manage their symptoms with a three-pronged approach of diet changes, stress management and medications.
Keep a journal to identify specific foods like dairy and wheat that may cause your symptoms. In addition, try these tips:
- Eat smaller, low-fat meals more often and eat them slowly.
- Consume more high-fiber foods like whole-grain breads and cereals and fruits and vegetables.
- Drink six to eight glasses of water a day. Avoid carbonated beverages and chewing gum, which contribute to gas.
- Avoid common triggers such as chocolate, alcohol and caffeine.
Although stress doesn’t cause IBS, it can stimulate colon spasms and trigger symptoms in people who have the condition. To ease stress:
- Try relaxation therapies such as meditation.
- Seek counseling and support to help you address stress.
- Exercise regularly; try walking or yoga.
- Get adequate sleep.
Your doctor can suggest over-the-counter or prescription drugs. For example, fiber supplements may help correct constipation. Antidepressants, antidiarrhea medicines and drugs to control muscle spasms may relieve symptoms. Two prescription drugs are available on a restricted basis for women with severe IBS that doesn’t respond to other treatments. Alosetron hydrochloride (brand name Lotronex) may help some with severe IBS whose primary symptom is diarrhea. Tegaserod maleate (brand name Zelnorm) may be used for treatment of IBS with constipation.