Living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can really take a toll on a person.
It’s not uncommon for patients to stay indoors out of fear of falling victim to their condition out in the wild.
If the discomfort of IBS symptoms wasn’t enough, not knowing when or where the symptoms act up can force a person to avoid social situations at all cost, draining them not only physically but emotionally as well.
Like many things in life, knowledge of IBS and its associated symptoms is half the battle.
Understanding the symptoms of an IBS attack can protect you from the embarrassment of an imminent attack so you’re never caught with your pants down!
Most Common Symptoms
Although IBS is a non-lethal disorder, it does affect the quality of life of those living with it.
To make matters worse, there’s currently no cure, and sadly, the only thing a person can do is wait it out and try to make do with the symptoms.
IBS attacks are known for having a wide range of symptoms, the most common of which are listed below:
The first thing most patients will notice is a general discomfort in the abdominal region.
Our brains and stomachs usually work in tandem to manage normal digestion through the help of hormones and by receiving signals from gut flora.
In the stomachs of IBS patients, the signals are distorted to the point where the digestive tract is left unmanaged, resulting in a stabbing or throbbing sensation in the digestive tract.
Stomach discomfort may last the entire duration of IBS flare-up.
IBS-diarrhea – or IBS-D – affects roughly one-third of all IBS patients.
You might be able to tell whether you have IBS-D by keeping track of how many bowel movements you have daily. On average, IBS-D patients will need to go to the bathroom at least a dozen times every week.
Unsurprisingly, having to go to the bathroom so frequently may lead to an unwillingness to leave the comfort of their home – no one wants to be out in public when disaster strikes. Plus, dehydration is a real risk so you need to drink more fluids to compensate excreted water.
Oddly enough, IBS-afflicted patients may also suffer from constipation, known as IBS-C- the polar opposite of IBS-D. About half of the people diagnosed with IBS suffer from this version.
IBS can impair communications between gut flora and the brain, thereby increasing (diarrhea) or slowing down (constipation) the time it takes for stool to make its way through the bowel.
One tell-tale sign of IBS-C is the frequency of bowel movements; fewer than three per week and the patient may have IBS-C. If this is you, please check with your doctor to see what you can do to treat it.
Mixed constipation and diarrhea
And to make matters worse, 20% of patients may suffer from IBS-M, or a mixture of IBS-C and IBS-D.
Once again, we have mixed signals sent from gut bacteria to thanks for this. The signals can alter between asking for reduced or increased transit times, causing the patient great levels of grief and confusion.
And the cherry on top of it all is that alternating between the two symptoms can happen rather quickly. Experiencing constipation followed by diarrhea or vice versa can be a tell-tale sign of a more severe case of IBS that requires medical treatment.
IBS-M differs from patient to patient in terms of transit time, so a blanket solution is not applicable in soothing IBS-M symptoms.
Bloating and Flatulence
Accompanying stomach cramps in more than 80% of patients is bloating and increased flatulence.
Researchers suggest that bloating and flatulence are caused by an increase of gas output in the gut possibly due to altered digestion patterns.
One possible culprit behind gas buildup in the stomach may be diet. Some common methods of reducing bloating include cutting high-FODMAP foods and dairy intake, at least until IBS subsides.
Once again, ask your doctor whether you need to cut FODMAPs from your diet.
Mucousy or bloody stool
IBS not only alters stool consistency but also what sort of fluids may be excreted. In many cases, patients may notice excessive mucus in their stool or, even worse, blood.
As for bloody stool, this can definitely be considered a red flag.
Blood may indicate a tear in the rectum or a ruptured hemorrhoid, either of which may be a good enough reason to meet with your doctor.
Fatigue and difficulty falling asleep
What’s worse is if a person is able to sleep for longer despite their condition, they might still report poor sleep quality and wake up not as refreshed as their non-IBS counterparts.
But don’t think for a second that fatigue and poor sleep quality are “minor” symptoms of IBS; if you’re suffering from these conditions regularly, you should check with your doctor as there might be another more sinister underlying cause.
Lifestyle Changes: Pre-Emptive Strike against IBS Attacks
Making significant lifestyle changes has the potential to effectively reduce the chances of you experiencing IBS and its range of horrible, draining symptoms.
However, before changing a thing in your diet and exercise routine, make sure you get the thumbs-up from your doctor.
Here are several things you can do at home to prevent IBS and its flare-ups.
1. Exercise more often
Exercising doesn’t have to involve lifting weights and jogging 10 miles every morning. To be on the safe side, avoid high-intensity workouts if possible.
Instead, you can soothe or prevent IBS symptoms by walking around the block, doing yoga, practicing Tai Chi, or even biking on a smooth road. Any form of physical activity that doesn’t wear you out should be fine.
However, you should definitely listen to your gut; if it’s time to go, drop everything and handle your business.
2. Increase fiber intake
Although a definitive cause of IBS has yet to be found, some researchers believe that insufficient dietary fiber intake may contribute to IBS or at least increase the severity of IBS symptoms.
3. Reduce/eliminate dairy from your diet
Cutting dairy from your diet should only be done if your doctor recommends it, or if you’re not lactose intolerant.
Studies have shown that dairy may not have a direct link to aggravated IBS symptoms, but if your stomach can’t handle the milk and cheese, why risk it? Unless, of course, you’re at risk of calcium deficiency, then you should really ask your doctor whether this is the right course of action.
4. Avoid stressful situations
Stress can do some pretty gnarly things to your mind, heart, and stomach. Stress is one of the key contributors to IBS flare-ups, and patients should avoid stressful situations by any means necessary.
As much as we’d like to take a week or five of paid vacation from work, this may not be a realistic option for most. Instead, try and keep work-related issues at the office.
Leave the stresses of work at the office and enjoy your downtime at home.
So in the End…
Symptoms of an IBS attack range from relative discomfort to not being able to function optimally.
The worst type of IBS is IBS-M, or constipation followed by diarrhea and vice versa, where alternating between the two occurs in rapid succession.
If you’ve experienced any of the symptoms mentioned above, be sure to schedule a meeting with your doctor to see what you can do to manage the damage.