To arrive at a diagnosis of "irritable bowel", the doctor must have conducted a series of tests to rule out other diseases. If no known disease has been found, the symptoms together are called "irritable bowel syndrome".
Irritable bowel syndrome is characterized by abdominal pain, cramping, flatus, and problems with bowel movements (either constipation or diarrhea, and sometimes both).
There are many theories about the causes of irritable bowel syndrome. It is generally agreed that this syndrome does not have one cause, but instead is a 3-pronged syndrome, including lifestyle factors, hormonal factors, and emotional factors.
THE FIRST STEP IS TO SIMPLY ADD FIBER TO THE DIET.
- Taking commercial brands of fiber. (There are numerous different types of fiber products such as Metamucil. They all work about the same, but it is probably less expensive to get a generic form of fiber.)
- To avoid bloating and gas, start with 1 teaspoon every day for 3 days and then increase by 1 teaspoon every 3 days until taking the equivalent of 6 to 9 teaspoons. This would be 2 to 3 heaping tablespoons every day. This can be taken all at once or divided anyway that one wishes. It can be mixed with water, orange juice or anything that you want. The object is to simply get it into your system within a 24-hour period and do it consistently every day.
- If you have bloating and diarrhea, you should work with a dietitian to try restricting lactose in your diet as a test to see if your symptoms improve.
- If the fiber treatment does not work, return to your doctor and your dietitian - you may need to have a more clear diagnosis and treatment.
- Occasionally antispasmodic medication is added to the treatment, to stop the bowel from cramping.
- Drink plenty of liquids and get daily regular exercise - these are very helpful in reducing symptoms.
WHEN EATING DURING FLARE UPS, IT IS A GOOD IDEA TO:
- Reduce your fiber intake
- limit whole grain breads, cereals, crackers, nuts, seed, and heavy skins on fruits and vegetables. It is OK to drink juice if it is not a trigger for you.
- Limit coffee, tea, colas, chocolate, and caffeine
- Limit higher fat foods (as they stimulate gut activity)
- Avoid alcohol
- Be cautious with dairy products if you get diarrhea.
Diarrhea can make you temporarily unable to digest milk sugar. This could make your diarrhea, cramping, bloating and pain worse. You can either:
- avoid milk and ice cream, and avoid or limit yoghurt or cheese, OR;
- try using Lactaid pills with your dairy products, or Lactaid milk to drink or on your cereal.
Note: Yoghurt and hard cheeses usually have less milk sugar, so they may not bother you.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO REDUCE FLARE UPS, AND PROLONG REMISSION?
- Keep taking the medication as your doctor instructs.
- Relax! Find ways to alleviate stress.
- Exercise regularly, as tolerated.
- Eat regularly. Try to eat 3 small meals and snacks.
- Ensure you eat enough fiber during your remission, as it can help reduce both diarrhea and constipation. Some people find cooked fiber easier than raw (i.e. cooked fruits and vegetables rather than raw. This does not lower the fiber in the food.)
- Eat fish, twice a week. Fish oil can help reduce inflammation because it contains a higher amount of “omega-3 fatty acids”. These fats have been shown to have some benefit in other inflammatory illnesses, too.
- Learn what your “trigger foods” are, and avoid them as you can.
- You may have flare-ups for no reason. Food is not the only trigger, so when you are looking to identify your own trigger foods, please try not to be too restrictive with yourself.