Understanding irritable bowel syndrome (and how a professional can help)

Lady tired in bed

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) tends to develop between 20 and 30 years of age and is thought to affect up to one in five people. Unfortunately for us ladies, statistics show twice as many women are affected than men.

The condition is common and also long-term. This means there is no quick-fix or cure, though symptoms can be managed and it may improve over time.

IBS symptoms will vary from person to person and often come and go in periods lasting days, weeks or even months at a time. Symptoms include:

  • stomach pain or discomfort
  • a change in bowel habits
  • abdominal bloating

If you are worried about your digestive system, do visit your doctor. They will be able to diagnose you and offer appropriate treatment options.

What causes IBS?

This is still largely unknown, however, many experts believe it’s related to increased gut sensitivity and difficulties digesting food. Stress and other psychological factors are also thought to play a part.

How is it treated?

As there is no official ‘cure’ for IBS, managing symptoms is key. This can be done by making changes to your diet and lifestyle. Medication may also be recommended.

Lifestyle changes

Many people with IBS find exercise helps them to manage symptoms. There are many health benefits to physical exercise, so ensure you are getting the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. This could include fast walking, cycling, swimming or dancing.

Stress is also a known trigger for IBS. Try to reduce stress levels with relaxation techniques, physical activities and meditation. If you’re struggling, you may want to consider talking therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy.  

Dietary changes

Looking at your diet and making changes here will form an important part of your treatment plan. It’s important to note however that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ plan.

Everyone is different and will need to take a tailored approach to their diet. A food that causes a flare up for one person with IBS may not have the same effect on you.

General advice offered includes looking at the amount and type of fibre in your diet. If you’re suffering from diarrhoea, cutting down on insoluble fibre (which doesn’t dissolve in water, e.g. whole grain bread and cereals) is advised. If you’re experiencing constipation, increasing the amount of soluble fibre (which does dissolve in water, e.g. oats and fruit) can help.

A popular diet plan for those with IBS and particularly bloating is the low FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for ‘fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols’ (we see why they went with FODMAP instead!). These long words are types of carbohydrates that aren’t easily broken down by the digestive system.

Reducing your intake of FODMAPs, therefore, should take some pressure off your digestive system.   

How a nutrition professional can help

While there is lots of general advice available once you’ve been diagnosed with IBS, making changes to your diet can be daunting. Everyone is different and will benefit from more personalised advice. This is where a nutrition professional can help.

Working with you one-on-one, they can help you to identify food that triggers your IBS and those that exacerbate symptoms. They can also help you create an eating plan that will minimise symptoms.

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Katherine

Written by Katherine

Kat is a Content Producer for Memiah and writer for Nutritionist Resource and Happiful magazine.
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