Dealing With an IBS Diagnosis?

What you should know about a low FODMAP diet & lifestyle changes

Perhaps it came on gradually or you got sick and your system just never got better. All you know is that something seems to be terribly wrong with your digestive system. You have been to the doctor, taken a bunch of tests, and were told that you have IBS.

Your doctor may have prescribed a medication, but all you know is that your life is still being turned upside down by your bowels. What do you do? Here are some things to consider and learn about as you try to figure out a way to reduce the impact that IBS is having on your life. 

A woman chopping vegetables in the kitchen

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Things to Rule Out

Hopefully, if you are reading this, you have had your IBS diagnosis confirmed by a physician. If not, please see your doctor so they can check for a more serious health disorder and help you find the right treatments.

Some other digestive health conditions have symptoms similar to those of IBS. Under 2021 guidelines from the American College of Gastroenterology, your doctor should run tests for:

IBS Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Man

Look at Your Food Choices

Having IBS means that you have an extra-sensitive gut. Therefore, the foods that your friends and family members can eat without consequence may no longer be okay for you.

Be sure to educate yourself as to foods that have reputations for being particularly challenging for your digestive system.

The Low-FODMAP Diet

The low-FODMAP diet is the newest big thing in the world of IBS. This diet involves avoiding certain foods that have properties that result in digestive distress for certain individuals.

Research on the effectiveness of the diet is underway, but early studies look promising. The American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) recommends a limited trial of a low-FODMAP diet for everyone with IBS.

Educate yourself about the diet and run the idea past your doctor. If you think you might want to give it a try, find a nutritionist to guide you to ensure that you continue to take in adequate nutrition.

Try an Elimination Diet

If you feel that a certain food, or type of food, is problematic for you, take a scientific approach. You know your body best, but sometimes other factors—such as stress or hormones—may be causing your system to act up rather than the last meal you ate.

One way to positively identify a food sensitivity is through the use of an elimination diet. Using this approach, you can pinpoint exactly what's bothering you so you don't unnecessarily restrict too many foods from your overall diet.

Some emerging research shows that a certain subset of IBS patients has a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. An elimination diet may help you root this out. The ACG only recommends looking into specific food sensitivities if you have symptoms that are reproducible by eating the suspected food.

Increase Soluble Fiber

Fiber—and especially soluble fiber—is good for both constipation predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-C) and diarrhea predominant IBS (IBS-D). It helps to keep stool both not too soft and not too hard.

But note that "fiber" and "bran" are not inter-changeable—bran is just one form of fiber and, for some, it can be irritating to the digestive system. If bran proves to be problematic for you, stay away from it.

Stress Management

If you were to speak with anyone who has had IBS for years and has learned how to keep symptoms to a minimum, they will tell you that it took a lot of trial and error to find out what works and what doesn't work. One consistent theme will be to do whatever it takes to reduce the stress in your life.

Although stress doesn't cause IBS, the close connection between your brain and your gut results in symptoms being exacerbated by anxiety and stress. Although you're likely faced with stressors you can't control, you can counteract the effects of those stressors on your health. In the case of IBS, that can change the way your colon behaves. 

IBS Subtypes

IBS can be divided into four subtypes, depending on the main bowel symptom:

  • Diarrhea = IBS-D
  • Constipation = IBS-C
  • Alternating/Mixed diarrhea and constipation = IBS-A or IBS-M
  • No identifiable pattern of bowel symptoms = IBS-U

Each subtype has its own challenges. For IBS-D, it's frequent trips to the bathroom and fear that urgency will lead to a bathroom accident.

For IBS-C, it's the discomfort of chronic constipation, which makes fiber even more important. Flaxseed is an especially popular form of fiber for people with IBS-C. You may also want to look into bowel retraining.

IBS-A/IBS-M and IBS-U present their own unique sets of challenges. It can be maddening to deal with bowels that never seem to get it right. It can be hard to know what suggestions to follow for fear that addressing one problem will lead to the other. Self-care can be especially important, as is working with your doctor to figure out symptom triggers and effective treatments.

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  1. Lacy BE, Pimentel M, Brenner DM, et al. ACG clinical guideline: Management of irritable bowel syndrome. Am J Gastroenterol. 2021;116(1):17-44. doi:10.14309/ajg.0000000000001036

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