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How do I know if I have IBS?

Bloating after meals? Always feeling gassy? Not as ‘regular’ as you’d like to be? To some extent, digestive discomfort experienced once in a while can be normal. However, if you’re finding yourself with regular uncomfortable symptoms (like those listed above) then it might be a sign of a larger problem. 

IBS (or, irritable bowel syndrome) is estimated to affect 10-15% of the global population. Unfortunately, IBS can be challenging to identify and manage because the symptoms range widely depending on the person. For some people, IBS symptoms might include constipation, while others struggle with diarrhea. Some may experience frequent gas and bloating, while others might experience pain or nausea. 

What’s considered “normal” when it comes to digestion? 

As mentioned above, certain digestive discomforts (like occasional gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation) are normal when experienced once in a while. Eating too much food, having something that doesn’t agree with you, or even food poisoning can be common causes of temporary digestive issues. However, if you’re finding that these issues are following you around and happening more frequently then it’s definitely time to talk to your doctor. 

How is IBS diagnosed?

The only way to truly know if you have IBS is to get a diagnosis from your doctor. Unfortunately, there’s no exact test that a doctor can do to identify IBS, but they can perform tests to rule out other conditions (like inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease or lactose intolerance). Once they’ve ruled out other conditions, your MD will use diagnostic criteria, like frequency of pain or discomfort to understand whether or not you have the condition. 

How is IBS treated? 

Although there is no cure for IBS, symptom management plays a big role in helping you feel like yourself again! Here are some of the diet and lifestyle factors that can play a role in IBS symptom management: 

  • Avoiding “trigger” foods. Although you may not know it, certain foods might be causing your IBS symptoms. Certain foods that produce more “gas” (like carbonated beverages, alcohol or certain vegetables like cabbage or broccoli) or larger food categories like lactose or gluten-containing foods may need to be avoided. Some people with IBS benefit from following a “low FODMAP” diet, which avoids certain fermentable carbohydrates that can be culprits in causing digestive discomfort. If you think that food might be at the root of your digestive issues, make sure to speak with a registered dietitian for help!  
  • In addition to healthy eating, exercise, hydration, stress management and getting enough sleep can all play a role in digestive health and symptom management too. If you’re struggling in one of these areas, make sure to mention it to your doctor! 

Poorly managed IBS symptoms can play a big role in your quality of life. Although you may be tempted to just “accept” symptoms as they come, sometimes a small tweak to your diet or lifestyle can have a substantial impact. As a first step, make sure to check in with your doctor, communicate your symptoms and let them help you feel your best! 

References: 

  1. (n.d.). Diagnosis Of IBS. Retrieved June 10, 2020, from https://www.aboutibs.org/diagnosis-of-ibs.html 
(2018, March 17). Irritable Bowel Syndrome - Diagnosis And Treatment - Mayo Clinic. Retrieved June 10, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20360064

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