Having a happy and healthy gastrointestinal system can make the world of difference to your quality of life, energy levels, nutrition status, and overall well-being.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which is a common gastrointestinal disorder that affects the large intestine. It can cause a variety of symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. Although the exact cause of IBS is not known, it is believed to be related to changes in the way the muscles in the gut contract and move food through the digestive system, and to an increased sensitivity of the gut to certain stimuli, such as certain foods or stress.
How do I know if I have IBS?
The diagnosis of IBS is usually made by a healthcare provider after ruling out other possible causes of symptoms. Here are some common steps that may be taken to diagnose IBS:
- Medical history: The healthcare provider will ask about the patient’s symptoms, including the frequency and severity of diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, and bloating. They may also ask about any recent changes in diet or stress levels.
- Physical exam: The healthcare provider will perform a physical exam, including a thorough abdominal exam, to check for any signs of inflammation or other abnormalities.
- Diagnostic tests: The healthcare provider may order diagnostic tests to rule out other possible causes of symptoms, such as inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, or colon cancer. These tests may include blood tests, stool tests, imaging tests, or a colonoscopy.
- Rome criteria: The Rome criteria are a set of standardized diagnostic criteria for IBS. To meet the criteria for IBS, a patient must have recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort for at least three days per month in the last three months, plus two or more of the following: improvement with defecation, onset associated with a change in frequency of stool, and onset associated with a change in form (appearance) of stool.
- Trial of dietary changes: If other causes of symptoms have been ruled out, the healthcare provider may recommend a trial of dietary changes to see if symptoms improve. This may include eliminating certain foods or increasing fibre intake.
It’s important to work with a healthcare provider to get an accurate diagnosis and then work with a dietitian to develop a treatment plan that’s tailored to your individual needs.
How do you treat IBS?
There is no cure for IBS, but it can be managed through a combination of dietary changes, stress management techniques, and medications to relieve symptoms.
A dietitian can play an important role in helping people with IBS manage their symptoms. They can provide guidance on making dietary changes that may help reduce symptoms, such as avoiding certain trigger foods. A dietitian can also help people with IBS identify any food intolerances or allergies that may be contributing to their symptoms. For example, some people with IBS may find that they have difficulty digesting certain types of carbohydrates, such as those found in certain fruits, vegetables, and grains and may undergo a low FODMAP diet with the assistance of the dietitian.
What is a low FODMAP diet?
The low FODMAP diet is a dietary approach that can help manage symptoms of IBS which is a chronic digestive disorder. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols, which are short-chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed by the small intestine and can ferment in the large intestine, causing gas, bloating, and other digestive symptoms. The low FODMAP diet involves avoiding foods that are high in FODMAPs for a period of time, typically 2-6 weeks, and then gradually reintroducing them to see which ones trigger symptoms.
It’s important to work with an accredited practising dietitian to ensure that the diet is followed properly and to avoid nutrient deficiencies. Here are some examples of foods that are high in FODMAPs and would be avoided or limited on a low FODMAP diet:
- Oligosaccharides: wheat, rye, garlic, onions, legumes, and certain fruits like apples and pears.
- Disaccharides: lactose-containing foods like milk, yogurt, and ice cream.
- Monosaccharides: fructose-containing foods like honey, agave, and certain fruits like mangoes and cherries.
- Polyols: sugar alcohols like sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol, which are often found in sugar-free gums, mints, and candies, as well as certain fruits like peaches and plums. It’s important to note that the low FODMAP diet is not a permanent diet and should only be followed under the guidance of an accredited practising dietitian. The goal is to identify trigger foods and then gradually reintroduce them to see which ones can be tolerated in moderation.
In addition to providing guidance on diet, a dietitian can also provide advice on other lifestyle changes that may help reduce symptoms of IBS, such as stress management techniques and physical activity. They can also provide support and encouragement to help people stick to their dietary and lifestyle changes over time. Overall, working with a dietitian can be a valuable step for anyone with IBS who is looking to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.