IBS -- or irritable bowel syndrome -- is a condition affecting the large intestine. IBS often causes abdominal pain and cramping, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. IBS does not lead to permanent diseases or conditions but can cause a lot of discomfort and pain. IBS may cause malabsorption of nutrients in your body, but with the right stress management, diet and medication, you can minimize their symptoms and ensure you get the nutrients you need.
IBS is a condition that is not related to immune diseases such as Crohn's disease or colitis. If you have IBS, your large intestine does not always work properly during the digestive process. During digestion, food passes through the stomach and into the small intestine before passing into the large intestine. The large intestine -- or the colon -- uses a squeezing motion to move food through the excretory system for disposal. With IBS, your intestines squeeze too hard or not hard enough, making food pass too quickly or too slowly through the colon. There is no known cause of IBS, but the condition can be worsened by stress.
Symptoms of IBS
When food passes quickly through your large intestine, you may experience diarrhea. When food moves too slowly, you may suffer from constipation. Along with bowel movement problems, you may often feel pain in the abdomen, bloating and gas. Events that can trigger IBS symptoms include eating large meals, stressful events and food sensitivities. Diarrhea and constipation disrupt your body's absorption of nutrients, which can cause low levels of nutrients, according to the IBS Treatment Center in Seattle.
Malabsorption of nutrients makes you more likely to suffer from iron deficiency and anemia, according to the IBS Treatment Center. When your body does not absorb enough iron or vitamin B-12, anemia occurs. Anemia is a blood disorder that occurs when there are not enough red blood cells or poorly formed red blood cells. Anemia is characterized by fatigue, as the blood is not delivering enough oxygen to the body. With IBS you may also suffer from low protein, according to a study published in "Human Nutrition -- Clinical Journal." Low protein can cause mental impairments.
Doctors can diagnose nutrition deficiencies such as anemia by conducting blood tests. A common treatment for malabsorption of nutrients is taking supplements. For IBS patients lacking in vitamin B-12, injections of B-12 are often prescribed. The common treatment for quelling IBS symptoms includes a multifaceted approach of practicing stress management techniques, eating frequent, small meals rich in nutrients and taking fiber supplements or laxatives. Doctors also prescribe medication for severe cases of IBS.
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols. These are sugar carbohydrates found in foods, but it is important to note that not all carbohydrates are FODMAPs, according to Stanford Hospital and Clinics. Examples of FODMAPs include fructose, found in fruits; lactose which is found in dairy products; fructans found in wheat, garlic and onions; galactans found in beans and legumes; polyols found in sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, xylitol and manitol as well as peaches, plums and avocados. Stanford Hospital and Clinics explains that FODMAPs pull water into the intestinal tract and may not digest well, which causes them to be fermented later, at which point they may cause you stomach problems, gas, bloating and diarrhea. If you have IBS your doctor may recommend that you avoid FODMAP foods to see if it helps relieve your IBS symptoms.
Is This an Emergency?
- University of Georgia Health Center: Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Medline Plus: Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Human Nutrition -- Clinical Journal: Subclinical Protein Malnutrition in Irritable Bowel Syndrome; Maudgal, D.P. et al.
- IBS Treatment Center Newsletter: How IBS Can Cause Iron Deficiency and Anemia
- Stanford Hospital and Clinic: Low-FODMAP Diet
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes