What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome? (aka IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that can cause all sorts of digestive issues. 

If you experience symptoms like indigestion, stomach aches, bloating, and many others, then it might help to ask your doctor about IBS. Learning about this condition may be the first step in getting relief.

So, without further ado, here’s a guide from Sunwink on IBS, its symptoms, and ways to find relief. 

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)? 

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a fairly common condition characterized by abdominal discomfort. 

IBS, also known as spastic colon, is often accompanied by an alteration in bowel movements, causing symptoms like gas, constipation (IBS-C), bloating (IBS-B), and diarrhea (IBS-D). IBS is an actual diagnosis you can receive from your doctor through blood tests, a colonoscopy, or other testing procedures.

What Are the Causes of IBS?

IBS affects so many people, but it’s not clear what exactly causes it. Some research suggests that many symptoms of IBS are related to hypersensitivity of the nerves located inside the gastrointestinal tract. For some people, IBS may arise due to how their intestinal nerves communicate with the brain. 

IBS affects about 11% of all adults and is about twice as likely in women. People with IBS typically develop their first symptoms in early adulthood and may experience IBS for most of their life — unless they learn to effectively manage their symptoms and the impact on their bowel habits.

There might be a slight genetic component to IBS. Many patients with the disorder report having a family history of the disorder, as well as conditions like celiac disease or lactose intolerance. However, it’s much more likely that IBS stems from other factors, such as high stress levels, poor dietary choices, and lack of physical activity. 

It’s important to note that IBS differs from the similarly-named inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

What Are the Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

The main (and sometimes the only) symptom of IBS is abdominal pain or discomfort. This usually stems from a change in bowel movements, like constipation, bloating, diarrhea, or cramping. 

People with IBS experience this symptom in different ways. Some may report sharp pain, while others may experience a feeling of fullness, with some even reporting a burning sensation. 

Some other symptoms of IBS can include:

  • A feeling of “incomplete” evacuation
  • A feeling of urgency in the rectum 
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Anemia
  • Mucus in stool 

It’s also possible to experience symptoms not related to the GI tract, which include:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Chronic pain 
  • Migraines
  • Sleep disturbances 

The symptoms of IBS may be triggered by eating certain foods, eating too much, or going through periods of psychological stress. 

Some people with IBS have mild symptoms and can go about their lives with no major issues. Others may experience extremely debilitating symptoms that make it hard to get through their daily routines, leading to a diminished quality of life.

Very often, emotional stress sets off symptoms of IBS, which can disappear once the stress is gone. For others, symptoms may show up randomly with no clear cause. Of course, upon further investigation, the underlying reason for symptoms may be revealed, such as undiagnosed food sensitivities. This makes it important to work with a healthcare professional like a dietitian.

What Are Some IBS Treatment Options and Solutions?

If you’re experiencing certain symptoms — such as abdominal pain, bloating, and constipation — then it is important to first get an accurate IBS diagnosis from a healthcare provider, like a gastroenterologist. 

Getting the right diagnosis is crucial for knowing what you’re dealing with and finding the appropriate treatment options. That said, are some more basic things you can do to ease the discomfort of IBS. 

Here are some lifestyle changes that can help you to reduce the effects of IBS: 

1. Implement Dietary Changes

An unhealthy diet is linked to symptoms of IBS, making it super important to examine what you eat daily. 

First, it’s important to be mindful of the junk food you consume. This includes refined, sugary carbs like pastries and candy, as well as packaged snacks and chips. 

Next, consider potential food sensitivities. Many people are unable to process nutrients found in dairy, gluten, and even nightshade vegetables like tomatoes. Try experimenting with a low-FODMAP diet to see if your symptoms get better. 

Keep track of what you eat and write down how you feel and when you feel it. This type of detective work can help you link your symptoms to your diet and make changes along the way. 

2. Prioritize Getting More Exercise

Exercise has amazing benefits for your body and mind — and those benefits go beyond weight loss.

If you’re already exercising, more power to you! If exercise hasn’t been a priority, try incorporating some movement into your daily routine.

Exercise is especially important for those with IBS because it can stimulate the digestive system, helping things move along more smoothly. In addition, exercise is a powerful mood booster that can relieve the stress that sets off IBS symptoms for many people. 

We recommend a combination of high-intensity cardio and strength training. This powerful duo can help boost your metabolism, improve gut health, and make you feel on top of the world. 

3. Consider Taking Probiotic and Prebiotic Supplements

Research and clinical trials suggest that those with IBS, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and similar conditions may experience a less diverse microbiome, which can lead to a gut imbalance. 

To restore your gut’s diversity, consider incorporating some over-the-counter probiotics into your daily routine. Probiotics are essentially “good” gut bacteria found in fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and yogurt. 

You may also wish to consider prebiotics, which act like food for your healthy gut bacteria. The more you nourish your microbiome, the better it should function. 

4. Take Care of You

Stress is a serious issue for those with IBS. If you’re feeling especially on edge lately, try slowing down and taking care of your mental health. You can try practicing self-care, spending time with loved ones, or cuddling with your favorite pet.

If the above strategies aren’t enough to reduce stress in your life, consider speaking with a professional. A therapist can help identify stressors in your life and find solutions to them. As a result, you may experience an improvement in your IBS symptoms. 

Supporting Healthy Digestion With Sunwink 

The different types of IBS can cause many uncomfortable symptoms, some of which may be downright debilitating. 

If you’re dealing with IBS, you deserve to find relief from your symptoms. By eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise, taking probiotics and prebiotics, and taking care of your emotional health, you may see a significant improvement in your digestive health. If you suspect you may have IBS or another digestive condition, consult your healthcare provider for medical advice.

If you’re looking for a healthy gut, we’ve got your back. Our Sparkling Superfood Tonics and Superfood Powders are packed with Superfoods known to support overall health. 

Sources: 

Irritable bowel syndrome: Is it “irritable brain” or “irritable bowel”? | NIH.gov 

The epidemiology of irritable bowel syndrome | Pubmed.NCBI 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Dietary Interventions | PMC

Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence | PMC

The gut microbiome and irritable bowel syndrome | Pudmed

Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Irritable Bowel Syndrome | National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Irritable Bowel Syndrome | American College of Gastroenterology

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