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IBS 5 risk-reduction strategies to manage irritable bowel syndrome

written by Vidya Sury April 19, 2024
Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS

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New research suggests five lifestyle modifications could be used as a primary prevention strategy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS, says Cleveland Clinic expert.

World IBS Awareness Day is on 19 April. Several lifestyle choices can greatly reduce an individual’s risk of developing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and these healthy habits can also form part of a holistic approach to managing existing cases of IBS.

IBS is a common but uncomfortable gastrointestinal disease, characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, and abnormal bowel habits. The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders estimates that 5-10% of the world’s population has IBS. According to the foundation, women have the condition more often than men, most sufferers are under the age of 50, and many people are diagnosed only years after their symptoms began.

Causes of IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The causes of IBS are not clear and risk factors identified by researchers include altered gut bacteria, severe infections of the GI tract, food intolerances, childhood stress, and problems with how the mind and gut coordinate. Irritable bowel syndrome can change your bathroom habits and cause pain in your gut.

Recent research, however, indicates that certain lifestyle modifications can significantly reduce an individual’s risk of developing IBS.

A study, published earlier this year in the British gastroenterology journal, Gut followed a group of 64,268 U.K.-based adults for an average of 12.6 years. Participants’ ages ranged from 37 to 73 (average age of 55), and none had a previous IBS diagnosis.

The study in Gut found five lifestyle habits that could significantly reduce an individual’s risk of developing IBS, suggesting that lifestyle modifications can be used as a primary prevention strategy. These habits are beneficial to health in general, and individuals who follow three to five of the lifestyle recommendations reduced their risk of developing IBS by 42%.

IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome Young African American female sitting on couch at home while having acute pain in stomach

The five lifestyle factors

These are:

  1. getting optimal sleep (seven to nine hours);
  2. participating in regular vigorous physical activity;
  3. following a high-quality, balanced diet;
  4. never smoking; and
  5. limiting alcohol intake.

How these lifestyle habits can be implemented in practice

Individuals must improve their quality of sleep by following sleep hygiene principles such as limiting screen time before bed, creating a nighttime routine and avoiding caffeinated beverages in the evening.

To ensure a quality diet, an eating plan such as the Mediterranean Diet is beneficial as it includes plenty of fiber and focuses on unprocessed foods.

As for exercise, depending on the individual’s health and with a doctor’s approval, doing 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise three to five times a week should be helpful.

Managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome

For individuals who have already developed IBS, the same lifestyle factors have been shown to help manage the condition, and the recommendations are included in many international guidelines as a first-line treatment.

In addition, individuals can work with their healthcare team to identify and address individual triggers for IBS attacks, which could be anything from stress to a particular medication or food types. In the case of food, elimination diets, undertaken in consultation with a doctor, can help ease discomfort and identify which foods trigger an IBS attack. Foods typically eliminated include gluten, dairy, sugar and packaged and processed foods.

However, lifestyle changes and avoiding triggers are not enough for many patients. The focus must be on comprehensive multidisciplinary care. There are many medication options available to treat specific IBS symptoms and underlying conditions, and behavioral therapies may also help.

World IBS Day provides an excellent opportunity to encourage people not to suffer gastrointestinal symptoms in silence. It is not a good idea to self-diagnose and self-medicate as many IBS symptoms are also common in other digestive diseases, some of which are serious.

An IBS diagnosis and treatment plan can greatly improve a person’s quality of life, and in the unlikely event that a more serious illness is diagnosed, this can be treated sooner, thereby improving outcomes.

Featured image courtesy: http://www.scientificanimations.com, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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