There's a chronic, mysterious condition that affects up to 45 million people in the U.S., but no one knows what causes it. What's more, the disorder looks a bit different in each person, which makes it tricky to diagnose and treat.
Kind of sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, doesn't it?
But the condition is the very real irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a somewhat baffling disorder marked by a host of uncomfortable GI symptoms.
Here, we'll break down what we know about IBS, from how it's connected to anxiety and weight to research-backed remedies that can help relieve symptoms.
What Is IBS, Anyway?
IBS is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that affects the intestines. The most common symptoms include bloating, cramping, abdominal pain and a change in bowel habits (read: diarrhea and/or constipation), although each person experiences IBS differently and symptoms tend to come and go.
The cause of IBS isn't well understood, although there are many theories. Unlike other GI disorders like Crohn's or celiac disease, it doesn't result from any damage or disease in the digestive tract, so it's often referred to as a "brain-gut disorder."
Learn more about the symptoms and possible causes of IBS, what the condition feels like and how it's diagnosed.
The Low-FODMAP Diet for IBS
One proven way to reduce the frustrating symptoms of IBS is tweaking your diet to remove or limit common trigger foods. While these may be different for each person, research has shown that avoiding foods high in FODMAPs is a great place to start.
FODMAPs — or fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, and yes, that's a mouthful — are a specific type of sugar found in some foods, such as apples, beans and yogurt. While they're not unhealthy, they can often make life less than pleasant for those with irritable bowel syndrome. Adopting a low-FODMAP diet might tame some IBS symptoms.
Read more about how the low-FODMAP diet was created, how it works and how to get started.
The Connection Between IBS and Anxiety
Because of the brain-gut connection in IBS, those with the condition often notice a link between their symptoms and their emotions. Anxiety and stress, in particular, can play a major role in IBS. Symptoms can trigger these feelings, and they in turn can make symptoms worse (talk about a vicious cycle!).
Fortunately, there are a range of stress-management therapies — including yoga and gut-directed hypnosis — that can aid in relieving the discomfort.
Check out six treatments that have been proven to help alleviate anxiety and IBS symptoms.
How IBS and Weight Loss Are Linked
Stress is also involved when it comes to the connection between IBS and weight. While some people with the condition struggle to keep weight on, others find it challenging to shed pounds — but IBS itself isn't to blame.
Instead, weight loss might occur for some because they fear certain foods will trigger their symptoms, so they end up eating fewer calories and nutrients than they should. For others, losing weight is a challenge because they tend to stick with "safe" foods that aren't all that healthy.
Whichever camp you fall into, there are methods that can help you manage your weight — see what the experts suggest.
The Best (and Worst) Exercises for IBS
Exercise is an important part of any healthy lifestyle, but it can really benefit people with IBS — as long as it's the right kind (i.e. it isn't so intense that it ends up making the condition worse).
Research has shown that working out regularly can reduce anxiety, relieve constipation and support digestive health, which all adds up to less severe symptoms and an improved sense of wellbeing.
Before you lace up your sneaks, learn about the five best exercises for IBS as well as two you should probably avoid.
Home Remedies for Easing IBS Symptoms
Although diet changes help a lot of people with IBS, there's still no cure for the condition and no "best" treatment for everyone.
You can and should discuss your options with your doctor or health care team, but living with the condition usually means doing some trial-and-error testing to find the best strategies to manage your personal symptoms.
Keeping a food diary, drinking more water and cutting out processed foods can all make a difference, as can finding healthy ways to reduce your stress levels. But there are a few other methods that might be effective, too.
Discover five home remedies for IBS symptoms (all backed by research) that you might want to discuss with your treatment team.