Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Customized Treatments Focus on Dietary, Lifestyle Changes

An estimated 10 to 15 percent of U.S. adults suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms. Yet, up to 7 percent of adults have been diagnosed with the disease. IBS is one of the most common disorders seen by physicians. April is IBS Awareness Month. And April 19 is designated "World IBS Day," with the goal of better understanding and de-stigmatizing a condition that can significantly affect an individual's quality of life.

Research has mostly found that counseling by a medical professional which leads to lifestyle changes is more effective than medication alone to treat chronic IBS. Your doctor may recommend changes in what you eat and other lifestyle modifications. Customized treatment may also include medicines, probiotics, and mental health therapies. You may have to try a few treatments to see what works best.

IBS can be challenging to diagnose, since the symptoms mimic those of other gastrointestinal disorders: diarrhea; constipation, abdominal bloating or gas; and abdominal discomfort or cramping. Treatments for IBS are based on the patient’s primary symptoms.

“Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common condition,” says Eduardo Ruan, M.D., gastroenterologist with Baptist Health South Florida. “It’s one of the leading causes of absenteeism from work, and so there’s a significant cost and impact to society. But people should know that there is help out there and that there are different types of interventions that we can do — lifestyle changes, dietary changes, and also some medication help.”

If these symptoms are chronic, you should see your primary care physician. Your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist. A thorough diagnosis is important to avoid mistaking Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or IBD, with IBS. IBD is potentially more serious. The two most common types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which both cause inflammation in the intestines and long-term damage if not treated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Primary care physicians can refer IBS patients to a dietitian to help reduce symptoms through dietary changes. Weight management through nutrition and regular exercise can also help reduce IBS symptoms.

“Nutrition plays a key role in the management of IBS and other G.I. conditions,” said Lucette Talamas, a registered dietitian with Community Health at Baptist Health South Florida. “Right now, there’s also a lot of attention to nutrition and gut health in general. We’re learning a lot more about the gut microbiome and how that impacts your gut health — and also overall health. So, by working with a dietitian to manage a G.I. condition, the patient can hopefully get relief from symptoms.”

What Causes IBS?
Doctors aren’t sure what causes IBS, but most experts believe it is a combination of factors that may have varying effects on different people.

Experts say these problems may play a role in causing IBS, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. These problems include:

  • Stressful or difficult early life events, including physical abuse;
  • Certain mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and somatic symptom disorder;
  • Bacterial infections in your digestive tract;
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, an increase in the number or a change in the type of bacteria in your small intestine;
  • Food intolerance or sensitivities, in which certain foods cause digestive symptoms.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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