Often, we complain about some abdominal cramps or pains, constipation, some loose motion, or some unexplained catches in the body. This is more so as we Indians keep eating more masala based or fried foods. We also have heavy meals more often owing to festivals and get-togethers. Hence, these symptoms of pain, gas, bloating, constipation, etc., are easy to be blamed on gas. Since we also feel better in a day or two, we don’t pay much attention to it till the next occurrence. It also helps that most people around you may also be complaining about the same issue on and off.
However, if we find these symptoms occurring as a pattern and find any of these occur a bit more than they should, perhaps, it’s time to visit a doctor. You should also specifically watch out for change in bowel habits or blood in stools or change of colour, etc. These may well be the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). It is said that many people live through their life, not knowing or diagnosing this problem. One study puts the prevalence of IBS in India, at somewhere in the range of 4.2% to 7.5% and the West, at a rather 10-20%.
What is IBS?
It is a gastrointestinal disorder characterized by one or more of the symptoms mentioned above, such as gas, bloating, abdominal pain, changing bowel movements, etc. People also experience diarrhoea and constipation, as there are different triggers for this, and as such, it manifests in different ways. At times, loss of weight and loss of appetite is also seen. Women are said to suffer more from this problem, especially during periods.
The causes of IBS are many like:
- Food sensitivity or intolerance
- Stomach infections or bugs
- Anxiety, depression, or stress
- Abnormal colon or small intestine movements
- Hormone issues
- Genetic factors
Some foods may trigger the symptoms, while a few others can help prevent it. The exact cause of IBS is hard to determine and may involve a rather long diagnostic process. It is also said that there is no cure for the condition and that the only way of treating it is to reduce the symptoms by identifying the triggers. Therefore, treatment includes dietary and lifestyle changes, and few prescription medications to treat any possible infections and so on. It could be a combination of all the above as well.
Only a qualified doctor can help diagnose the condition and its probable causes. However, since it is mostly to do with your gut health, some common suggestions that can help are:
- Eating more fibre rich food (Taking supplements if prescribed)
- Including more probiotics and prebiotics to improve gut health
- Drinking more water
- Eating low-fat foods
- Eating high-carb foods provided there is no intolerance to any of those.
- Avoiding dairy foods as usually lactose intolerance is a common trigger.
- Avoiding gas-causing cruciferous veggies like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.
- Keeping away from fried and fatty foods
- Avoiding alcohol and caffeine
- Avoiding sugar and artificial sweeteners
These are just some of the generic remedies that may be followed. Doctors treating you may ask you to maintain a journal to understand if any specific foods are triggering the symptoms. This could take around three to six months, and you may then have a diet plan in place on what to eat and avoid. The diagnosis may also include stool tests, X-rays, CT scans, endoscopy, colonoscopy, etc. Based on all results and observations, the doctors may develop a treatment plan that can help improve the situation and help you live a comfortable life.
The lifestyle changes that may be suggested could be:
- Eating meals on time
- Eating smaller and more frequent meals.
- Mindful eating
- Regular exercise
- Quitting smoking and drinking
- Meditation and other stress management techniques
- Ensuring an adequate amount of sleep
With a combination of all the above suggestions, it is possible to reduce IBS symptoms and live a good life. It is important not to let go of the regime, which could easily bring on a relapse of the symptoms.