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What are the top 5 contributors to IBS?

What are the top 5 contributors to IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, can be frustrating to manage. For many people living with IBS, it can feel like the list of triggers, or foods that contribute to IBS flares, is ever-growing. Trying to plan spontaneous social outings, or attend important events, can cause great anxiety because you never know what might set off your bowels and the cascade of misery that follows.

When you have IBS, finding the right balance of what to eat—and what to avoid—can be hard to manage on your own. However, at Lompoc Valley Medical Center, we work with our patients every step of the way to help them manage chronic conditions, including IBS. Read on to learn what you need to know about IBS, including the top 5 contributors to this condition.

What is IBS?

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is defined as a “group of symptoms that occur together, including repeated pain in your abdomen and changes in your bowel movements, which may be diarrhea, constipation, or both.”

If you have IBS, these symptoms occur without any apparent changes or damage to your digestive tract, which includes your small intestine and large intestine (colon). The condition of IBS is sometimes confused with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD),, a group of bowel conditions in which there are visible changes in the digestive tract. However, IBS and IBD are not the same, and a healthcare provider needs to differentiate between the two syndromes because their management and treatment are different.

What are the symptoms of IBS?

Everyone experiences IBS differently. For some people, their IBS occurs with predominantly diarrhea symptoms. They may have abdominal pain, bloating, and frequent episodes of diarrhea. These episodes may be difficult to time or predict and may get in the way of a person’s daily affairs. Other people have a predominantly constipated version of IBS. They may go several days without a bowel movement, which can also cause symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, or increased flatulence. Like a diarrhea-prominent form of IBS, this can also wrench in a person’s daily schedule and cause agony. It’s also possible to have a mixed record of IBS, in which you alternate between excessive diarrhea and constipation.

It’s estimated that 10 to 15% of people in the US have IBS. Medical experts aren’t certain why people experience IBS in this variety of forms, and they also aren’t certain why IBS occurs in some people and not others. It’s normal to experience diarrhea and constipation from time to time. Both conditions are affected by your body’s response to certain foods that you eat, your hydration status, and the presence of microbes in your gut. However, when diarrhea and constipation are seemingly taking control of your life and affecting your schedule in a major way, you’re more likely to receive a diagnosis of IBS.

What are the causes of IBS?

The causes of IBS are not known. There is also no specific way to test for IBS with blood work or another type of diagnostic evaluation. People usually get diagnosed with IBS after a medical provider has done a careful evaluation and helped rule out other causes of their symptoms.

What are the top 5 contributors to IBS?

Even though the causes of IBS are not clear, some factors appear to make IBS more prominent and increase a person’s symptoms. Some contributors to IBS include specific foods. Other contributors to IBS are specific behaviors or lifestyle circumstances. Read through this list to learn about the top 5 factors that can exacerbate the condition of IBS.

Contributor #1: Specific foods

When you have IBS, certain foods can add to your agony. The foods that contribute to an IBS flare vary depending on whether you have a diarrhea-prominent form or a constipation-prominent form. The foods that tend to contribute to a diarrhea-type IBS flare include an excessive amount of fiber, chocolate, fried foods, dairy, and foods that contain gluten. The foods that tend to contribute to a constipation-type IBS flare include cereals or bread that are made with refined grains (as opposed to whole grains), processed foods, and dairy products.

Portion size also matters with IBS—large meals may make symptoms worse, regardless of the type of IBS that you have.

Contributor #2: Specific beverages

Similar to how specific foods can contribute to an IBS flare, certain beverages can add to your agony, as well. Whether you have diarrhea-prominent IBS or constipation-prominent IBS, you may find that beverages that contain alcohol, caffeine, fructose, carbonation, or dairy increase your symptoms. The sweetener known as sorbitol can also exacerbate diarrhea-type IBS, but it may relieve symptoms in constipation-type IBS (because it can cause some loosening of stool).

Contributor #3: Increased stress levels

Although stress is not the cause of IBS, having an increased stress level can certainly make your IBS worse and increase your symptoms. There are many causes of increased stress in today’s world, and if you notice that your IBS is worse during certain situations (such as during business travel, or when you're approaching an important deadline), it’s important to acknowledge this. If stress seems to be making your symptoms worse, you may want to consider formal stress reduction techniques, like speaking with a professional therapist or doing relaxation techniques that are specific to IBS.

Contributor #4: Certain medications

If you have IBS, taking certain medications may worsen your symptoms. This is why it’s important to check with your healthcare provider before you start taking any new medication, including over-the-counter medicines and supplements. Common medicines that can contribute to an IBS flare include antibiotics, certain antidepressant medications, chemotherapy drugs, and medicines that include artificial sweeteners like sorbitol.

Contributor #5: Other medical conditions

When you have IBS, your symptoms can be worsened by other medical conditions. One example of this is women who have premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Some women who have severe premenstrual symptoms like abdominal cramping, bloating, or gas, find that their diarrhea or constipation is worse around certain times of the month. If you think another medical condition may be making your IBS worse, make sure to speak with a healthcare provider about your concerns. Sometimes starting medicine to manage one medical condition (such as taking an oral contraceptive pill to help with premenstrual symptoms) can improve your IBS as well.

What foods are less likely to contribute to IBS?

It may seem like the list of “off-limits” foods in IBS is arbitrary, but experts have found that there is a common thread among the foods that are more likely to contribute to IBS and less likely to contribute to IBS. This secret has to do with a particular type of short-chain carbohydrate that isn’t well absorbed by the small intestine in many people with IBS. The name given to these carbohydrates is "FODMAPs" (which stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols).

If you have IBS, experts recommend avoiding foods that are considered to be high in FODMAPs. You may want to follow a pattern of completely removing high FODMAP foods from your diet, then gradually reintroduce these foods to see if certain foods are more triggering than others.

High FODMAP foods include wheat, rye, barley, apples, apricots, blackberries, cherries, dates, grapefruit, mango, pear, watermelon, artichoke, asparagus, cauliflower, garlic, leeks, portabella mushrooms, onions, sugar snap peas, coconut milk, frozen yogurt, ice cream, milk, soft cheese, soy milk, yogurt, most beans, most legumes, and processed meats.

Foods that are low in FODMAPs, and that are less likely to contribute to IBS include eggs, meat, lentils, chickpeas, edamame, cheddar cheese, feta cheese, almond milk, hemp milk, rice, quinoa, oats, sourdough bread, popcorn, corn tortillas, eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, zucchini, olives, bok choy, spinach, grapes, oranges, strawberries, blueberries, and pineapple.

For a full list of FODMAP foods, check out this site from the American College of Gastroenterology. It can be hard to keep track of which foods are high in FODMAPs and which foods are low in FODMAPs, but working with a dietitian to find recipes that incorporate low FODMAP foods can be helpful when getting started.

How to learn more about living well with a diagnosis of IBS

The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can be obnoxious, and they can get in the way of your enjoyment of life. But understanding what contributes to IBS can help you better control the condition and get back to doing what you love. At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, our healthcare providers are skilled at recognizing the symptoms of IBS, making a diagnosis, and then getting you the health and support that you need to get back on track. Make sure to contact us today to learn more about living well with a diagnosis of IBS.