Updated: May 20
Many people struggle with irregular or frustrating bowel habits, but you may have been struggling for so long that the discomfort becomes “normal”. However, bloating, gassiness, indigestion, constipation, and diarrhea are not normal!
These symptoms are associated with a condition called irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, which is a diagnosis used to describe anyone with a bowel issue of “unknown origin”. It can be frustrating to be told that this is a lifelong condition but it’s important to know that IBS can be well-managed once we understand the cause(s).
WHAT IS IBS?
IBS is diagnosed by symptoms of alternating or predominant constipation or diarrhea with gas, bloating, abdominal pain, indigestion, mucous in the stool, undigested food in the stool, and/or irregular bowel habits. IBS symptoms can be difficult to pin down, but they are generally worse with stress, change in routine, and/or poor eating habits. If you have IBS, imaging and most lab tests run by your MD will come back normal.
It’s important to note that IBS does not cause rectal bleeding. If you see blood in the stool or in the toilet bowl, you should speak with your ND or MD about getting testing (such as a colonoscopy) to rule out other conditions.
WHAT CAUSES IBS?
There is always an underlying cause of IBS, and in some cases, you may have more than one factor that plays a role in having healthy verses irregular bowel function.
Food Sensitivities: Your immune system may be reacting to certain foods or food groups, and this leads to digestive upset. Once we understand which foods are causing the issue, and we typically do some gut-healing work, and then we find the threshold whereby you can reintroduce these foods in your routine without causing symptoms of IBS.
SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth): This condition is often misdiagnosed as IBS but it’s actually an issue with the amount of bacteria living in the small intestine. Typically these patients have severe bloating, sometimes nausea, profound fatigue, and issues with seemingly every food they eat. Treatment requires lab testing and a very different protocol than ‘run-of-the-mill’ IBS.
Hormones (stress, thyroid, sex hormones): If your IBS flares up when you’re stressed or around your menstrual cycle, we may need to address these causes separately from the digestive tract. A hyper or hypoactive thyroid gland is another often overlooked cause of constipation or diarrhea. A discussion about hormones and sometimes hormonal lab testing are important aspects of addressing IBS.
Upper GI dysfunction: Stomach acidity or digestive enzyme production issues can prevent us from digesting food in the stomach. When we don’t break down food well, it can lead to gas, bloating, pain, undigested food in the stool, and diarrhea one it reaches the lower GI tract because food particles are too large, so they draw water into the bowel and hyper ferment when they meet our gut flora.
Unhealthy gut flora: If there is an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria or yeast in the large intestine, they react in a different way than a healthy gut microbiome would react to food. This most often leads to bloating, alternating diarrhea and constipation, and sometimes fatigue, mental health and skin issues.
Motility issues: Irregular bowel habits can be caused by a dysfunctional migrating motor cortex. This means that the way your bowel squeezes and moves stool through the system is either over or under active. This can be caused by a thyroid issue, SIBO, a history of laxative use, or blockages in the bowel.
HOW IS IBS TREATED?
Your Naturopathic Doctor will make a treatment plan that is specific to your symptoms, medical history, and circumstances of your IBS flare-ups. This may include the option for lab testing to make our protocol more individualized, or a referral to your Gastroenterologist for imaging if needed.
Once we understand the cause of your digestive symptoms we can address the underlying issue, allowing you to regain control of your bowel habits for the long term.
Book your appointment to understand and address the cause of your IBS.