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March 25, 2024

What is IBS, Really? with Jen Funsten, MPH, RD, LDN

by Jen Funsten, MPH, RD, LDN

Maybe you’ve heard of IBS, and maybe you’ve even wondered if you have it! Registered Dietitian, Jen Funsten is breaking down everything you need to know about IBS and sharing additional resources for support.

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a common gastrointestinal condition in the US, impacting an estimated 15% of adults. IBS is characterized by a change in the movement or motility of the gut, which can then present as a group of symptoms including changed frequency or appearance of bowel movements, pain or discomfort.

What are the symptoms of IBS?

IBS can include a variety of symptoms, ranging from constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, and pain or discomfort. Symptoms can vary depending on the type of IBS as well. The four subclasses of IBS include:

  • IBS with constipation (IBS-C)
  • IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D)
  • IBS with mixed constipation and diarrhea (IBS-M)
  • IBS un-subtyped (IBS-U)

People with IBS-C or IBS-D tend to have more constipation or diarrhea, respectively. People with IBS-M can experience both constipation and diarrhea at different times or intervals, while people with IBS-U can have varying symptoms that do not fit into any other subtype. Symptom severity of all classes of IBS can vary from mild to severe.

What causes IBS?

The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but it is thought that it may develop due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as stress, diet, infection, or food sensitivities or intolerances. IBS flare ups can also be triggered by similar factors.

How is IBS diagnosed?

There is not one single test to definitively diagnose GI symptoms as IBS. Your healthcare provider will assess your medical history symptoms, and may conduct a colonoscopy, endoscopy, breath test, or stool test to rule out other diagnoses. IBS is then diagnosed according to a set of criteria called the Rome IV criteria, which assesses your symptoms for abdominal pain and changes in frequency of form of stool. Symptoms that may point to a diagnosis other than IBS include:

  • Unintended weight loss
  • Blood in stool
  • Symptoms occurring in the night that may wake you from your sleep
  • Anemia
  • Onset of symptoms in someone older than 50 years of age

How is IBS treated?

IBS cannot be cured, however there are a variety of treatment options that can help people live more comfortably with IBS:

  1. First, assessing the lifestyle factors. Ensuring adequate fiber and water intake, eating in a Mediterranean style dietary pattern, incorporating exercise, and managing stress can often help with milder cases of IBS.
  2. Further nutrition intervention. There are some diets like the low FODMAP, gluten free or dairy free diet that may provide more symptom relief for people with IBS. Schedule an appointment with a dietitian to see if one of these could be a good fit for you.
  3. Supplements. For some, supplements such as probiotics, IB gard, fiber supplements, laxatives, and more can provide relief of IBS symptoms.
  4. Medical intervention. There are several medications approved for managing IBS. Medications recommended can differ based on the symptoms experienced. Ask your healthcare provider if you are interested in learning more about medication options.

When Should You See a Healthcare Provider?

If you have undiagnosed diarrhea or constipation symptoms that continue to persist for longer than 3 weeks, your symptoms are impacting your quality of life, you see any blood in your stool or on the toilet paper, your stool looks black and tarry, or you begin losing weight unintentionally, make an appointment with your medical provider to assess further.

We have a free Gastrointestinal (GI) support group at Avance Care. In this support group, we work together with specialists from nutrition, gastroenterology, behavioral health, and more to provide information on living with and managing an array of GI conditions and symptoms. We will also be providing a space for individuals with GI conditions to connect, discuss personal experiences, and engage in support. Ask your medical provider, dietitian, or behavioral health specialist about the GI support group and how you can get involved! Or click on the link below to fill out an interest form and someone will be in touch soon to get you started.

Avance Care Support Group Interest Form 

To lean more about our services, visit our website, schedule an appointment with a dietitian here, or call (919)237-1337, option 4.

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