Top IBS Questions: Answered!

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This resources was made possible due to an unrestricted educational grant from Nestle Health Science, makers of IBgard.

1. Q: What is IBS? 

A: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder affecting the intestine. IBS involves problems with motility (movement of digested food through the intestines) and sensitivity (how the brain interprets signals from the intestinal nerves), leading to abdominal pain, changes in bowel patterns and other symptoms. Although often disruptive, debilitating and embarrassing, it may be some comfort to know that IBS is NOT life-threatening, nor does it lead to cancer or other more serious illnesses.  

2. Q: How common is IBS? 

A: IBS is very common. In fact, Canada has one of the highest rates of IBS in the world, with an estimated 18% vs. 11% globally (1). 

3. Q: What are the most common symptoms? 

A: Abdominal Pain, irregular bowl patterns that result in constipation, diarrhea, or alternating periods of both 

4. Q: How do you know if you have IBS? 

A: Often, symptoms alone can provide doctors with the information they need to diagnose IBS. Your doctor will perform a physical examination and take a complete medical history that includes a careful review of your symptoms. For this reason, it is important to be candid and specific with your doctor about the problems you are having. A set of specific symptom criteria (referred to by physicians as the Rome IV Criteria) has been developed to help physicians diagnose IBS.

According to the Rome IV diagnostic criteria, IBS is characterised by recurrent abdominal pain for, on average, at least one day per week in the last three months, associated with two or more of the following:

  • Symptoms related to defecation
  • Symptoms associated with a change in stool frequency
  • Symptoms associated with a change in form (appearance) of stool

5. Q: Can IBS kill you? 

A: No. IBS is a chronic (long term), but manageable condition. Over time, the symptoms of IBS typically do not get worse, and with an effective treatment plan, as many as one-third of IBS patients may eventually become symptom-free.  

6. Q: Are there any complications of IBS?  

A: While IBS can cause pain and stress, it does not cause any permanent damage to the bowel or lead to cancer or any other major illness.  

7. Q: Is there an IBS Diet?  

A: One of the most common diets recommended by healthcare professionals to alleviate IBS symptoms is the FODMAP diet. Fermentable carbohydrates (also known as FODMAPs which stands stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols), are small carbohydrate (sugar) molecules found in everyday foods that may be poorly absorbed in the small intestine of some people. FODMAPs are fermented (digested) by intestinal bacteria, which can lead to symptoms of abdominal pain, excess gas, constipation, and diarrhea. The Low FODMAP diet is one of the most well-researched diets that shows significant symptom improvement for ~50-80% of those with IBS.(2)

Learn more about the FODMAP diet here.  Check out the other diets here. 

8. Q: Will probiotics help my IBS? 

A: If other dietary strategies have not been successful in relieving your symptoms, a trial of a probiotic (in the dose recommended) may be helpful. However, probiotics are not medicine! They are available to purchase as capsules, tablets or powders, and can also be found in some fortified yogurts and fermented milk products. However, not all probiotics are the same. It is important to choose a product that is proven to be safe and offers benefits for the specific symptoms you want to relieve.  Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about which probiotic may be right for YOU. 

9. Q: Are there other ways to manage IBS? 

A:Your doctor will prescribe the necessary medications for you, however having a discussion with your doctor about ‘Mind-Body Connection activities’ and effective over-the-counter products for IBS may help identify additional options to help manage your symptoms, and help you feel more in control and proactive about your diagnosis.

Things like yoga, Tai chi, meditation, and breathing exercises trigger what is called a ‘relaxation response’.  It’s a way of consciously focusing on slowing down and relaxing. Products such as peppermint oil and probiotics may be helpful in easing overall digestive symptoms associated with IBS, including abdominal pain, bloating, and urgency of bowel movement. Stool softeners, laxatives, and supplements are available for constipation. Fibre gets things moving in your digestive tract when you’re constipated, and it also bulks up stool, which helps slow down diarrhea.

10. Q: How is IBS different then IBD?  

A: Although both illnesses can be seriously debilitating, there are several primary differences between Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBD is an autoimmune disorder that causes swelling and ulcerations (sores) in the bowel. IBS involves problems with motility (how the bowel moves contents through our intestines) and sensitivity (how the brain interprets sensations in the bowel). Symptoms of IBS may wax and wane and possibly disappear altogether whereas IBD is a chronic condition.

References:

  1. Lovell RM and Ford AC. Global prevalence of and risk factors for irritable bowel syndrome: A meta-analysis. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2012 Jul;10(7):712-21.e4.
  2. Altobelli, E., Del Negro, V., Angeletti, P. M., & Latella, G. (2017). Low-FODMAP Diet Improves Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms: A Meta-Analysis. Nutrients9(9), 940. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9090940