Effective options to control IBS, irritable bowel syndrome

The symptoms of IBS may fluctuate and even go into remission spontaneously, so it can be difficult to definitely know what works and what doesn’t. Management can be divided into two categories.

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Even though IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, is a common gastrointestinal disorder, medical science still cannot fully explain its origin or understand the best way to treat it. But physicians can do much more to help patients with this condition than previously thought.

Here is the link to a new and updated version of this post; I suggest you go here-

This information is current as of the publication date; it is general medical information that helps doctors and patients make decisions about what is right for them. Medical recommendations and practice change as we learn new things. Discuss with your physician or appropriate healthcare provider.

What is IBS?

Recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort averaging 1 day per week for 3 months associated with

  • altered bowel movements
  • change in frequency of stool
  • change in form or appearance of stool
  • not explained by other conditions that are known to cause similar symptoms

IBS patients may have any combination of pain, diarrhea, and constipation, which can alternate or go in remission at times. Other common symptoms include

  • passage of mucus
  • increased gas
  • bloating and/or fullness
a diagram of the gastrointestinal system

Physicians do not expect IBS to cause bleeding, fever, weight loss, nausea, or vomiting; such symptoms prompt investigation of other conditions, including

  • inflammatory bowel diseases-Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
  • celiac disease
  • gluten sensitivity
  • lactose intolerance
  • infection
  • malabsorption syndromes

The symptoms of IBS are not unique , making diagnosis difficult since it can be confused with other conditions. Women are diagnosed with IBS more often than men, and onset of symptoms after age 50 years is unusual (although it may have been present and unrecognized. ) Children

Currently there is no one generally recognized blood test, scan, image, or other diagnostic test that confirms IBS.

Why does IBS happen?

The cause of IBS is still uncertain but gastrointestinal specialists cite several issues that likely contribute.

At one time doctors believed it was due to overactive muscles in the bowel wall, altered motility, leading to the once used name “spastic colon.” Now there are several additional factors that seem to contribute.

One pathway involves the neurotransmitters in the nerves of the bowel that transmit signals from there to the brain and back. A deficiency of these neurotransmitters may be interpreted as pain or may alter gut motility causing diarrhea or constipation.

Changes in the number and type of “gut microflora”, the bacteria that live in the bowel ,has been identified as a possible cause.

Some people develop IBS after having viral gastroenteritis (infection). The infection may trigger an intense immune response leading to chronic inflammation as the cause of the persistent symptoms.

Effective options to control IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome
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Managing IBS

The symptoms of IBS may fluctuate and even go into remission spontaneously, so it can be difficult to definitely know what works and what doesn’t.

Non-drug treatment options

Regular exercise, such as a daily walk, and conditioning with moderate to vigorous exercise 3-5 times a week improves digestion and encourages the bowel to move more efficiently.

Adequate and restful sleep helps manage stress that frequently precipitates symptoms.

Experts recommend changes of food choices and eating habits as basic steps to symptom control.

They emphasize eating meals at regular intervals, limited snacking, and not overeating at any time.

No one food or food group is universally off limits, but some IBS patients do well by avoiding

  • alcohol, caffeinated and/or carbonated beverages, and milk
  • spicy and fatty foods
  • gas-producing foods
  • gluten
  • artificial sweeteners
  • insoluble fiber

Some studies show a low FODMAP diet is especially helpful for bloating whether diarrhea or constipation is the major problem. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that aren’t absorbed properly in the gut.

FODMAPs are found in various  fruits, vegetables, cereals, breads, dairy, and sweeteners so it can be challenging to know what’s acceptable and what’s not. Using a list such as this one or working with a knowledgeable dietician can make it easier to find what works for you.

The Cleveland Clinic offers this FODMAP guide.

Mind based therapies

Because of the nervous system involvement,  one’s thoughts and emotions can both improve and exacerbate symptoms of IBS.  Adequately managing stress plays a key role in managing IBS symptoms.  Psychological therapies are often recommended- CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), hypnotherapy, and psychotherapy.


Drug therapy for IBS

Non -prescription drugs used for IBS include

Both groups may also get help from probiotics.

(These are affiliate links used to support this blog at no additional cost to you.)

Prescription meds available in the United States specifically for IBS include linaclotide, lubiprostone, eluxadoline , rifaximin, plenecatide,and tegaserod.

Fecal Microbiota Transplantation

An interesting investigational treatment involves fecal transplantation (or bacteriotherapy) , the transfer of stool from a healthy donor into the gastrointestinal tract . Small studies have shown it effective for IBS but the effect may not be long lasting. Fecal transplantation is currently not routinely performed for reasons other than recurrent C. difficile colitis. More research studies are still needed to determine if fecal transplantation should be performed for other clinical indications. Fecal transplantation for other clinical indications should be considered experimental, and performed only as part of a research study where your safety is closely monitored.


What to do if you think you may have IBS

Monitor your symptoms carefully, keeping a written record, for 1-2 months. Take this to your doctor for an evaluation. However if you have these symptoms, see your doctor immediately.

  • bleeding in bowel movements
  • unexpected weight loss
  • fever
  • profuse diarrhea
  • persistent failure to pass stool
  • severe, disabling pain

A primary care doctor-a family medicine or internal medicine doctor- can evaluate these symptoms initially, and decide if referral to a GI specialist, a gastroenterologist , is needed for more specialized testing.

The American College of Gastroenterology offers these resources for patients with irritable bowel syndrome. 


If you have been diagnosed with IBS

Your doctor likely has already recommended some of the measure I have listed above. If not, and your symptoms are not controlled, then you might want to discuss to see if they are appropriate for you.

Remember, this is provided for your information and is not intended as advice or treatment. I  encourage you to seek care from your personal physician. 

exploring the HEART of health

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Don’t drink the water- how to avoid water related disease

The most serious risk of water is drowning or near drowning, with 3,300 deaths and another 5,000 hospitalizations annually in the United States.

You’ve probably heard the advice “Don’t drink the water” when you travel to less developed areas of the world. But water can make you sick even without drinking it.

Bacteria and other disease causing organisms can be transmitted by swimming and other water related sports

  • in private and public pools
  • recreational freshwater and oceans
  • hot tubs, splash pads, water parks
  • decorative fountains

Drinking, inhaling, and direct contact with water contaminated with a variety of bugs can cause a wide range of illness, most of which is preventable. Here is an overview of common conditions to watch out for.


The most serious risk of water is drowning or near drowning, with 3,300 deaths and another 5,000 hospitalizations annually in the United States.

Children are especially at risk of drowning. Teaching children to swim as early as practical and supervising them around pools and other bodies of water are critical to prevention.

Drowning Prevention

caution signs at a swimming pool.
Drowning can be prevented by following rules.

Gastrointestinal (stomach and intestines) illness-

  • Nausea,
  • vomiting,
  • diarrhea,
  • cramps,
  • fever
stream with a kayak
Water in creeks, streams, and rivers is not safe to swallow.

Respiratory (nose, throat, lungs) illness

  • cough,
  • nasal/sinus congestion,
  • ear pain/fullness,fever
Swimmer’s Ear
  • pool chemicals
  • Legionella and other bacteria
rapids in a stream

Skin conditions

  • rash,
  • redness,
  • itching,
  • burning
Causes –

Most of these conditions resolve without treatment, or are treatable with appropriate antibiotics.

two people dangling their legs into a pool.
Don’t let water related illness spoil your summer fun. photo from stock photo site- Lightstock.com- affiliate link

Serious but rare

Primary amebic meningoencephalitis is a rare but deadly sinus-related infection caused by Naegleria fowleri in freshwater and soil 

Leptospirosis is another brain infection caused by a group of spirochetes known collectively as leptospires. It also is infrequent.

How to prevent infection

  1. Don’t drink water used for recreation even if treated with chlorine.
  2. Children younger than five years should not use hot tubs.
  3. Persons with diarrhea or recent diarrhea infection should not swim for one week after symptoms have cleared.
  4. Swimmers should shower before using a hot tub or pool.
  5. Don’t swim with open wounds, or use waterproof bandage if you do. .
  6. Learn more and get more tips on staying well at these links from

drawing of a child standing on a diving board at a pool
from the American Academy of Family Physicians

from American Family Physician

Waterborne Illnesses

Safe Surfing

Sea Creature Injuries and Fish Poisoning

And from the Smithsonian , get more detail about

8 diseases to watch out for at the beach 

Exploring the HEART of summer health

before you go, here’s another post you should read
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