Cramps, bloating and GI discomfort – these are just a few of the unpleasant symptoms that can accompany Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)… but did you know, there are actually four different types of IBS? Each type comes with its own set of unique symptoms. Before we dive in, let’s first define what IBS is and its potential causes.
What is IBS?
IBS is a disorder of the gut brain interaction, when the communication pathway between the two becomes disrupted.
There are a wide variety of reasons why patients develop this disruption and it’s unlikely that there is just one single cause.
Research outlines many potential causes of IBS which include:
- Food intolerances
- Imbalances in gut bacteria
- Alterations in the gut-brain axis
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Low-grade inflammation
Although there is no clear genetic cause, IBS can be triggered by multiple factors. Symptoms can be worsened by stress, irregular eating patterns, or an abnormal diet. Additionally, long-term use of certain medications for chronic conditions or antibiotics can cause diarrhoea and other IBS-like symptoms (1).
Stats show that IBS affects about 1 in 10 of us in the UK (2). IBS also seems to affect women twice as often as men in Western countries. This, however, might be the result of women being more likely to seek help for their symptoms.
So lets talk about these four different types of IBS…
1. IBS-C: Constipation-Predominant
If you find yourself struggling with infrequent bowel movements, bloating, and abdominal discomfort, you may have IBS-C. This type of IBS is characterised by constipation, which can be both uncomfortable and frustrating. But there are plenty of ways to get things moving again! Keep reading to find out more.
2. IBS-D: Diarrhoea-Predominant
On the other end of the spectrum is IBS-D, which is characterised by diarrhoea and urgency. You may find yourself running to the bathroom more often than you’d like, which can be inconvenient and embarrassing. But with a few tweaks to your diet and lifestyle, you can help get your gut back on track – again, keep reading to find out more!
3. IBS-M: Mixed
If you’re experiencing both constipation and diarrhoea, you may have IBS-M. This type of IBS can be particularly frustrating, as it can be hard to predict what your gut will do next. But don’t worry – with some careful observation and experimentation, you can figure out what triggers your symptoms and how to manage them.
4. IBS-U: Unspecified
Finally, there’s IBS-U, which is used to describe cases that don’t fit neatly into any of the other categories. You may experience a mix of symptoms, or your symptoms may change over time. But even if your case of IBS is hard to pin down, there are still plenty of things you can do to take care of your gut health.
What can I do about my IBS?
If you’re one of the millions of people dealing with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), there are steps you can take to help manage your symptoms. Self-management can make a huge difference in reducing the unpleasant symptoms of IBS, regardless of which subtype you have.
One key tool in managing IBS is identifying trigger foods. Working with a dietitian or trained health professional, you can keep a food diary to help reveal which foods are causing the most problems. Foods commonly known to cause abdominal discomfort include wheat products, dairy, onions, nuts, and caffeine-containing drinks like coffee and tea. Understanding how these foods affect your body can be a major step in reducing IBS symptoms.
Foods which commonly cause abdominal upset include wheat products, dairy products, onions, nuts and caffeine-containing drinks such as coffee and tea. These foods tend not to be very well absorbed by the small intestine. To find out more about these foods and their link with IBS, check our article on the low FODMAP diet.
Gut Microbiome and IBS
Studies have shown that imbalances in the gut microbiome are associated with IBS. People with IBS tend to have a lower level of beneficial gut bugs like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and higher levels of less beneficial microbes like Enterobacteriaceae and E. coli (3).
Based on a recent meta-analysis, probiotics with more significant evidence for improving symptoms of IBS include B.coagulans and L.plantarum (4).
Overall, IBS is a sign that there is an imbalance or intolerance in the gut. So in order to address IBS, it’s important to identify and address the underlying issue(s) in the gut. In many cases, this may be a combination of dietary approaches, supplements and lifestyle modifications.
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