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Alyssa Simpson RD, CDE, CLT
Alyssa Simpson

RDN, CLT​

Confused by IBS? Here Are the Answers to 7 of Your Most Burning Questions

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IBS

IBS can be confusing. It’s just not a clear-cut thing. With many illnesses and health concerns, your doctor can run a lab test and definitively diagnose you. But IBS is different.

😕 Many doctors don’t really know that much about it.

😕 There is no single test that can tell you whether or not you have it.

😕 IBS is a multifactorial illness — this means it isn’t caused by just one thing. And the causes vary widely from person to person.

😕 There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to IBS.

People reach out to me all the time with lots of questions about IBS — and what to do to feel better. And I’m guessing you may have some questions too. So this month on the blog, I’m going to answer some of the most common questions I get asked about IBS.

IBS FAQ #1: What is IBS?

IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is a digestive system disorder that primarily affects your large intestine, or colon. IBS is characterized by the presence of a collection of symptoms. It’s not a clearly defined medical condition that you can diagnose by running a single lab test. But it is possible to get a reliable diagnosis by carefully looking at your medical history, various lab test results, and symptom analysis.

IBS FAQ #2: What are the symptoms of IBS?

How IBS shows up in symptoms also varies from person to person. But IBS is categorized by some combination of the following:

💩 Belly pain

💩 Constipation

💩 Diarrhea

💩 Constipation and diarrhea

💩 Cramping that typically subsides after a bowel movement

💩 Gas and bloating

💩 Feeling like your bowel movement isn’t finished

💩 Mucus in your stools

IBS symptoms aren’t just occasional. Everyone gets diarrhea from time to time. But if you’re suffering with IBS, your frequent symptoms are likely causing a major disruption in your life. Whether that’s distracting pain and belly bloat, or emergency trips to the bathroom, IBS is not something you can easily ignore.

IBS FAQ #3: What causes IBS?

We don’t know for sure what causes IBS. There are theories out there. But research hasn’t landed on a single, consistent cause. There are many possibilities:

👉 Brain/gut miscommunication, resulting in intestinal muscle contraction that leads to cramps, pain, and constipation or diarrhea

👉 Nerves in the intestine may be sensitive to certain food triggers

👉 GI muscles struggle to move food through your system at the right speed (dysmotility)

👉 A virus or bacterial infection that triggers severe diarrhea can trigger the onset of IBS

👉 Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO

👉 Gut microbiome dysfunction

👉 Childhood trauma or a stressful event early in life

👉 Visceral hypersensitivity — overly sensitive nerves in the GI tract

And just like IBS symptoms, the causes vary from person to person as well.

IBS FAQ #4: How common is IBS?

An estimated 10% – 15% of Americans suffer with IBS symptoms. Some sources estimate the rate at closer to 20%. But only half of those people have been diagnosed. Women are more likely to have IBS than men, although researchers are still working on understanding why.

Many people just accept their IBS symptoms as something they have to live with, maybe as a part of getting older. So they don’t seek answers or treatment. But even when people see their doctor about the digestive symptoms common to IBS, they may come away with inconclusive tests or medications that don’t address their real issues. IBS is a misunderstood condition and many doctors will just wave away the symptoms without making a proper diagnosis.

IBS FAQ #5: Is there a cure for IBS?

There is no cure for IBS. But that’s no reason to lose hope. IBS is gaining traction in the research and medical spaces. But even if there isn’t a cure on the horizon, there is a lot you can do with food, supplements, and lifestyle to manage your IBS symptoms and keep them from interfering in your life.

IBS FAQ #6: Do stress or anxiety play a part in IBS?

Yes, they certainly can. Over the past few decades, researchers have discovered that there is a profound connection between what happens in your brain and what happens in your gut. Intuitively, you probably already know this. When you feel anxious, worried, or scared, you may notice that you feel it in your gut — butterflies when you’re nervous, the feeling of your stomach “dropping” when you get bad news, etc.

Your gut and brain share a lot of similarities, including many of the brain chemicals that affect mood (like serotonin). In fact, scientists have dubbed the gut the ‘second brain’ because this connection and similarity is so strong.

So if you notice your IBS symptoms getting worse when you’re stressed or anxious, it is not your imagination. There is a genuine physiological connection there.

IBS FAQ #7: Does what I eat make a difference in my IBS symptoms?

Yes! Food is a very common trigger for IBS. When your digestion is going well, you may not give much thought to how what you eat affects you. You get hungry. You eat. And you’re not hungry anymore.

But when you have IBS, you may notice that certain foods can cause your IBS to “flare up”, or worsen. This may happen minutes, hours, or even days after you eat the offending food. So it may be challenging to figure out which foods are causing issues.

Many IBS patients come to me eating a very limited variety of foods, or afraid to eat at all because they recognize the connection between what they eat and how bad their symptoms are.

But just because a specific food causes you problems now doesn’t mean it always will. There are ways to tweak your diet and work with your body to improve your reaction to troublesome foods.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks for more IBS FAQs. We’ll dig deeper into the steps you can take to improve your IBS so you can get back to living your life without keeping a constant eye on the bathroom.

Your best bet at dealing with your symptoms is to work with a knowledgeable practitioner who can do some testing and investigative work to figure out what’s really going on in your body. Uncovering and addressing the root cause of your symptoms is the best way to get you feeling better.

If you’re ready to take a personalized approach to your IBS, click the link below and we’ll get started.

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