Understanding IBS

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Irritable bowel syndrome affects up to 20 percent of the U.S. adult population, and the disorder has no known cause. Here, a look at IBS, from symptoms to treatment

Imagine not being able to make dinner plans with your friends or not eating your favorite foods for fear that it will send you running for the bathroom. For people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), these scenarios may sound all too familiar. Because the disorder is commonly characterized by cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea, some IBS patients report that they can never be far from a bathroom.

Who Gets IBS and Why?

Symptoms of IBS affect up to 20 percent of the U.S. adult population, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Approximately 60 to 65 percent of IBS sufferers are female, and the condition can affect people of all ages, even children.

Researchers have yet to discover any specific cause for IBS. One theory is that people who suffer from IBS have particularly sensitive colons that are highly reactive to certain foods and stress. The immune system, which fights infection, may also be involved. What doctors and researchers do know is that IBS is not a disease; it's a functional disorder in which the bowel does not work correctly.

IBS Symptoms

Many people are able to control their symptoms with diet, stress management, and prescribed medications. But for some, IBS can be disabling, keeping them from their jobs and social events. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, symptoms of IBS may include:

* Bloating and gas;
* Abdominal cramping and pain;
* Mucus in the stool;
* Constipation;
* Diarrhea, especially after eating, or first thing in the morning;
* Urge to have a bowel movement immediately after having one.

Certain factors may cause symptoms to worsen, such as excessive stress or an improper diet. In women, the symptoms of IBS may be more frequent during their menstrual periods. Some people find that their symptoms subside for a few months and then return, while others report a constant worsening of symptoms over time.

Diagnosing IBS

If you think you may have IBS, seeing your doctor is the first step toward treatment. Although there is no specific test for IBS, your doctor will carefully study your medical history and perform diagnostic tests to rule out other problems. These tests may include blood and stool sample tests, X-rays, and a colonoscopy, which allows your doctor to see the inside of your colon. Even if your test results are negative, your doctor may still diagnose you with IBS based on the severity and frequency of your symptoms.

Treating IBS

There is no known cure for IBS, but many options are available to treat the symptoms. Unfortunately, many people suffer from IBS for a long time before seeking help. In fact, up to 70 percent of people with IBS are not receiving medical care for their symptoms, according to the NDDIC. Getting help is very important, though. A careful combination of diet, stress management, and medication helps many IBS sufferers to keep their condition under control.

Careful eating can often help to reduce IBS symptoms. Before drastically changing your diet, try keeping a journal of everything you eat, noting the foods that seem to cause distress. Then discuss these findings with your doctor, who may recommend that you consult with a registered dietitian to help you develop an appropriate meal plan.

The following may worsen IBS symptoms, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD).

* Fried or fatty foods;
* Certain high-fiber foods;
* Dairy products;
* Vegetables such as beans, cabbage, legumes, cauliflower, and broccoli;
* Coffee;
* Caffeine;
* Alcohol.

In some cases, dietary fiber (in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain cereals and breads) may relieve IBS symptoms, particularly constipation. However, fiber may also increase instances of gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Doctors usually recommend a diet with an appropriate balance of fiber to produce soft, painless bowel movements.

Stress Management.
The colon has many nerves that connect it to the brain. These nerves control the normal contractions of the colon and can cause abdominal spasms during stressful times. As a result, people with IBS often experience cramps or "butterflies" when they are nervous or upset. Stress management is, therefore, an important part of managing your condition. People with IBS are advised to get adequate sleep; seek counseling, if needed; and engage in stress-reducing activities, such as walking or yoga.

Doctors often prescribe fiber supplements or laxatives for constipation as well as medications to decrease diarrhea. An antispasmodic is commonly prescribed, which may help to control colon muscle spasms and reduce abdominal pain. With any medication and even over-the-counter laxatives and fiber supplements, it's important to follow your doctor's instructions carefully. Some IBS sufferers report a worsening in abdominal bloating and gas from increased fiber intake--and laxatives can be habit forming if they are used too frequently.

Most Fattening Ballpark Food

There was a time when the national pastime was synonymous with peanuts and cracker jacks. Now, the ballpark menu has expanded—to include one fattening item after another. Stadiums often serve foods made famous by their hometowns (such as cheesesteaks in Philly, crabcakes in Baltimore, or pierogies in Pittsburgh), but many of them should come with an exercise plan on the side.

Chili cheese dog. To begin with, most hot dogs contain several grams of saturated fat (the kind of fat that causes high cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association). Add to it the greasy, gooey cheese and loads of spicy chili (and if it's Cincinnati's famous Skyline chili, served at the Great American Ball Park, there may be some chocolate added). The final caloric score of these treats? Somewhere in the ballpark of 400 calories.

Pretzel dog. Maybe they're going to for a triple play here: high in fat, high in sodium, and high in carbs. It's not like the hot dog is a health food to begin with, but wrapping a 200-plus-calorie pretzel around it is just adding insult to injury. If a pretzel dog isn't your thing, but you still want all the fatty goodness of the pretzel and sausage, you can order the bratzel (a bratwurst wrapped in a pretzel) the next time you're at a St. Louis Cardinals home game. But beware: You'll be consuming a quarter of your daily calorie intake.

Beer. It's technically not a food, but a cold brew is a ubiquitous ballpark staple nonetheless. In fact, the vendors are everywhere, shouting, "Get your beer, here," into the stands. Whether you're having a cold one at Miller Park or Coors Field or any of the other fields not named after beers, each eight-ounce glass weighs in at approximately 100 calories. Light beers could save you about 25 to 30 calories a glass, but they'll still cost an arm and a leg.

Garlic fries. These specialty French fries are such a hit, they can be found in multiple stadiums, particularly on the West Coast, including Bank One Ballpark (home of the Arizona Diamondbacks), PETCO Park (home of the San Diego Padres), and AT&T Park (home of the San Francisco Giants). With these fries, you'll be batting 500-calories, that is.

Italian sausages. It doesn't matter if you top your sandwich with the hottest peppers or the sweet kind, Italian sausages are a strikeout, for sure. Although the caloric count and fat grams vary widely depending on where you're ordering, they're never low, sometimes swinging as high as 700 calories and more than 40 grams of fat.

Anything smothered in barbecue sauce. Pick your poison: the barbecue pork ribs in Atlanta, the barbecue beef sandwich while watching the Royals play at home, or some of Manny's barbecue pit beef in Pittsburgh's PNC Park. To be fair, it's not the sauce that will wreak havoc on your waistline; it's everything underneath it.

Cuban sandwich. You can get a Cuban while rooting for the Tampa Bay Rays, the Boston Red Sox, or the Cleveland Indians. Regardless of who they're playing, one pre-game prediction is sure to be true: At about 700 calories a sandwich, this ballpark food will ruin your diet.

Cheesesteak. It's no surprise that they serve this famous Philadelphia staple at Citizen's Bank Park where the Phillies play. While Geno's Steaks and Pat's King of Steaks continue to battle across the street from each other for dominance in the Philly cheesesteak market, whether you grab one of those or the kind at the park, one thing is clear: You're going to need to loosen your belt after you finish eating it.

Pizza. Two slices of Little Caesar's pepperoni pizza stack up to 780 calories. And if that's not enough to convince you to steer clear, consider this the next time you're at a Detroit Tigers home game: Mike Ilitch owns both the team and the pizza franchise, which has made him enough money to earn a spot on the Forbes Richest Americans list. Maybe you should save your money.

Chocolate-covered cheesecake. As if the other foods haven't already done enough harm, the final inning brings dessert. And at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, that means chocolate-covered cheesecake, which is sure to issue to the final blow to your waistline.

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