Does some food not sit right in your stomach, causing bloating and tummy pain? Do you find that certain foods regularly leave you running for the loo or struggling to keep your bowels moving? You might have a condition called Irritable Bowel Syndrome, IBS.

Today we’ll be talking about IBS and why it might be important to pay attention to that niggling gut feeling of yours!
What is IBS?
IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder that particularly affects the large intestine, impacting bowel movements and causing bloating, and abdominal cramps. IBS usually develops during adolescence or early adulthood, though it is possible to develop the condition later on. In Australia up to 1 in 5 people have the condition, with data indicating women are twice as likely to have IBS as men.

Although talking about your toilet habits might not be the nicest topic to discuss, it is important to pay attention to your bowel movements, particularly if you think you might have IBS. In addition to bloating and cramps, individuals with the condition regularly experience one of three different types of bowel motions- diarrhoea predominant, constipation predominant or alternate between the two.
Although it isn’t entirely clear, IBS is thought to stem from increased nerve sensitivity and irregular muscle contractions in the colon wall, influenced by a mixture of factors including lifestyle, diet, medications, stress, as well as age and gender.

It is worth noting that high levels of stress or anxiety and depression can affect your bowel movements, regardless if you have IBS or not, but more so if you do. If you do find that this is a problem for you, I would highly recommend seeing your GP to receive further support and treatment to manage these conditions, which can then help to improve your IBS symptoms.

People with IBS are often sensitive to certain foods that trigger the unpleasant symptoms that accompany the condition. These foods typically contain one or more of the different types of dietary sugars and fibres referred to as FODMAPs, which are Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols. These carbohydrates are broken down and fermented by gut bacteria leading to increased gas formation and water retention in the large intestine. Although IBS does not cause gut damage, without intervention such symptoms will continue and depending on their severity, can be a real issue for your quality of life.

Diagnosis and treatment

Despite being a chronic condition, symptoms can come and go and vary in their severity for IBS sufferers. Symptoms of IBS can overlap with other gut conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease and Coeliac disease, which can have serious medical and nutritional consequences if not appropriately treated. Make sure you see your GP and get tested to eliminate other potential causes for bowel irregularity, but remember that unlike other more chronic gut conditions, IBS is a manageable condition with the help of your GP and Accredited Practising Dietitian, APD.

Dietary interventions can help to relieve or reduce most of your IBS symptoms. A low FODMAP diet works by eliminating all FODMAP-containing foods, before their gradual reintroduction, with the aim of pinpointing which FODMAP dietary sugars or fibres are causing digestive problems (e.g. – fructose in some fruits). When you know which FODMAP foods are being malabsorbed and which aren’t, you just need to avoid your triggers and re-introduce the safe foods.

With such a dietary intervention initially cutting out so many foods, it is best to do the low FODMAP diet under the guidance of an APD to ensure you continue to meet all your nutritional requirements. This will also allow you to work out your level of tolerance for FODMAP-containing foods, meaning you can keep more of the foods you love in your diet, minus the unpleasant symptoms!

So what should I do if I suspect I have IBS?
If you do have concerns about regular abdominal discomfort, bloating and abnormal bowel movements, you don’t need to suffer in silence- there is help in sight! Consult your GP to rule out any other gut-related conditions and see an APD to guide you in modifying your diet to manage IBS, so you can enjoy a better quality of life!

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