People with IBS experience repeated stomach pain and changes in bowel movements, which may include constipation, diarrhea or both. Other symptoms can include bloating, feeling like you have unfinished bowel movements or whitish mucus in the stool. These symptoms occur without any visible damage or disease in the digestive tract.
There are three types of IBS, which are defined by what happens on the days when you have abnormal bowel movements:
- IBS with constipation (IBS-C): More than one-fourth of your stools are hard or lumpy and fewer than one-fourth are loose or watery.
- IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D): More than one-fourth of your stools are loose or watery and fewer than one-fourth are hard or lumpy.
- IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M): More than one-fourth of your stools are hard or lumpy and more than one-fourth are loose or watery.
It is difficult to pinpoint the cause of IBS, but people with IBS often share certain problems, such as bacterial infections of the digestive tract, bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, physical or sexual abuse early in life, mental disorders and food intolerances. Studies suggest that genetics may also play a role.
Here are some dietary changes your doctor may recommend before prescribing medications:
- Slowly add more fiber to your diet (by two to three grams each day).
- Avoid gluten.
- Avoid foods that contain hard-to-digest carbohydrates, also called FODMAPs. These include fruits (apples, mangos, pears, plums, watermelons, etc.), vegetables (asparagus, cauliflower, garlic, mushrooms, etc.) and dairy products (soft cheeses, custards, ice cream, etc.).
Research also suggests that increasing physical activity, reducing stress and getting plenty of sleep may help with IBS symptoms.
If you are experiencing abnormal bowel movements and do not know why, speak with your doctor to see if you have IBS. Your doctor will guide you to the appropriate treatment.