Everyone experiences some level of bowel discomfort during their lives. However, for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), symptoms appear frequently—at least once a month—with little or no apparent explanation. Although IBS is not life threatening, it can certainly lower one’s quality of life, disrupting both work and social life.
The symptoms of IBS can vary widely from one patient to another. Most patients experience cramping, bloating, and abdominal discomfort. Whereas some IBS patients will suffer from constipation, others will experience diarrhea, or even alternate between the two.
Doctors refer to four subtypes of the condition, each defined by consistency of the stool during an episode. Knowing what subtype of IBS you suffer from can assist your doctor in pinpointing possible triggers and in prescribing the appropriate treatment(s).
IBS with Constipation
This category includes patients who experience hard, possibly painful stools more than 25 percent of the time. They do not experience diarrhea or watery stools as often (usually less than 25 percent of the time).
Doctors may advise adding more fiber to your diet to overcome constipation. You can either eat more whole grains or take a daily supplement. The addition of fiber can help soften the stool, making it easier to pass.
IBS with Diarrhea
This category is the exact opposite of the first subtype. Patients with this subtype of IBS experience diarrhea or loose, watery stools more than 25 percent of the time. They do not often suffer from constipation or difficulty passing stools.
Several factors may help lessen the occurrence of diarrhea. Doctors may recommend eating smaller, more frequent meals. They may also look for evidence of food sensitivities. Dairy products, spicy foods, and foods containing artificial sweeteners can all cause loose stool in some patients.
Some patients with IBS do not fall into either of the above subtypes. These patients experience an equal mix of constipation and diarrhea, both more than 25 percent of the time. In this instance, it is important to identify triggers for either extreme and find a balance of treatments, so that treatment for one symptom doesn’t trigger another.
In addition to identifying possible food sensitivities, you can:
- make necessary dietary changes
- avoid stress
- get a prescription for antidiarrheal medication and laxatives
This will ensure that you have the appropriate medication on hand when an episode occurs.
The final category experiences the other symptoms of IBS—cramping, abdominal discomfort, bloating, gas, and passing of mucus—but doesn’t suffer from stool irregularities for the most part. This type is less common than the other three types, but treatment will require identifying triggers and treating individual symptoms.