Irritable Bowel Syndrome :: What Causes IBS and What Type of Person You Are Will Decide How You Treat the Symptoms

Figuring out what type of Irritable Bowel Syndrome you have is your first step to discovering what is triggering your bouts of IBS, and ultimately finding an effective remedy or therapy which is going to help you to live a normal life.

What Type of IBS Do You Have?

  1. Diarrhea sourced IBS
  2. Constipation sourced IBS

There is a third more complicated indicator of this rather frustrating and (at times) very inconvenient condition, and that is IBS sourced by dramatic changes in your bowel movements, ranging from diarrhea to constipation.

We will discuss all types of the condition in this article, focusing on what you can do to eliminate it from your daily life.

But first you need to realize what type of person are you?

Are you someone who generally prefers to use over the counter treatments because they are specifically ‘designed’ to eliminate your symptoms and they generally work quite quickly?

Or are you like me, someone who focuses their attention to finding a natural solution to pain (and discomfort) management? And when I say natural I mean finding a cure by making changes to your diet and lifestyle, or by finding a suitable alternative or holistic therapy.

NOTE: You can use our table of contents to skip to any section of this page.

First lets take a look at the causes, triggers and diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome to find out once and for all what is causing your ‘uncomfortable’ life.

What Causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

  • Lifestyle
  • Gastrointestinal infections
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Food allergies – to dairy or wheat
  • Caffeine
  • Processed foods
  • Refined sugar
  • Corn
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • High fat diet
  • Prescription medicines

stressed business woman That is a huge list isn’t it? Well in my case, I can honestly say that trigger factors (in the past) have included poor diet, like eating too much fat, sugar and processed foods. I learned my lesson, so nowadays I live a much healthier lifestyle.

More recent triggers that I have noticed as I’m getting older and after other health problems, is something about when I drink coffee. It’s never affected me before, but drinking coffee (in moderation) on an empty stomach is a huge ‘no no’, but on a full stomach it has no effect at all.

Something you should know about caffeine is that it can trigger spasms in your colon, which are abnormal. In a normal digestive tract this is what happens when you eat food and it passes through your body as your body is absorbing nutrients. It goes through your stomach, then through the small bowel and then in your large bowel where this process called peristalsis occurs (quite naturally).

But when you drink coffee (particularly in large quantities), it can activate this process making you need an urgent bowel movement.

Another personal trigger for me was anxiety and apprehension. If I ever got anxious or tense about an important meeting or an event in my life, I would get a range of symptoms from stomach cramps to diarrhea. It’s been that way since I was a teenager. Hence the reason why I now eat a much more strict diet, excluding fat and sugar from my diet.

And I no longer drink excessive amounts of coffee!

IBS Caused by Psychological Triggers Such as Anxiety and Stress

Hypersensitivity in your large bowel plays a huge role in your condition. When you get stressed or anxious about something in particular, for example an examination for a new qualification, a job interview or even an argument with your spouse. This could be your psychological IBS trigger.

But how do you stop becoming nervous or anxious about a situation in your life? They happen all the time, it’s just human nature that we argue with other people and upset. If this is something that happens in your ‘psyche’, is there really a way to overcome your mental state and improve your gastrointestinal health?

Yes. Relaxation techniques could really help you out here. When done correctly, you can quite easily reduce the stress and anxiety in your life. You do any of the following.

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

You can find out more about how these types of relaxation therapies can help you, near the end of this article.

IBS Caused by Lifestyle Imbalances

If the way you live your daily life is ‘shallow’ shall we say, then you can probably expect to suffer complications in your health at some point throughout your life. Records show that far too often people complain about their health concerns to their doctor, and more often than not it is their own choice of lifestyle that is to blame.

You can’t expect to sit around all day like a couch potato, eating chips and candy, and drink cola and then expect your digestive system to be healthy (or the rest of your body, for that matter). The biology of our bodies needs us to eat as natural a diet as possible and to move around a lot, taking regular exercise.

But what defines ‘exercise’?

Look, you don’t have to be an athlete to do exercise and keep your body in a healthy condition. You don’t have to be a member of a gym either. If you are not inclined to join a health or fitness club, you have plenty of other alternatives.

  • Cycling – you don’t have to be a Lance Armstrong either, but if you can cycle to and from work rather than taking the car then that is going to work wonders for your health. And if you only have time to cycle half an hour here and there – then do it. At least you’re not sitting around doing nothing.
  • Stepping or using an elliptical trainer at home – fitness machines like stair steppers are reasonably priced these days, the cheapest at around $50 so you don’t have to spend a fortune to get the edge on your exercise.
  • Jogging or walking – it doesn’t cost anything and you can do it on your way to work or to the the corner shop.
  • Home exercise DVD’s – it’s not free, but if you follow a 15 – 30 minute program on a DVD, you will get your muscles working, increase your heart rate and improve your digestive (and overall) health.

There are umpteen ways you can keep moving from walking to gardening, so make a plan to get your body working normal (if you don’t already).

What defines a ‘healthy diet’?

The problem with a health diet, is that it can also contain your IBS triggers. That doesn’t sound logical doesn’t it? Well unfortunately, it is true. There is an abundance of natural and healthy food that contain too much dietary fiber, or not enough fiber to suit your body.

It is up to you (and your doctor, if you have discussed your symptoms with him) to decide what kind of irritable bowel syndrome you have and what type of diet you should eat. At the bottom of this article, I have written a complete section on managing IBS with your diet.

It doesn’t matter what causes your bouts of IBS, one thing is absolutely clear. They have a tremendous and negative effect on your quality of life, which doesn’t only affect you. Your problem can affect the people who are closest to you as well.

And if they do not understand why you are running off to the bathroom every ten minutes, it can be very embarrassing and can also cause ‘unrest’ in a relationship. If you have children, life inevitably becomes awkward because you have responsibilities to attend to and these interruptions and bathroom visits can really get in the way.

IBS can also affect your job, as it did mine. In my twenties I had no end of sick days, which were attributable to this condition. I was lucky to hold on to my job.

Signs and Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

So how do you now you have it and what is IBS? The Medical terminology is a ‘gastrointestinal condition’, that triggers severe abdominal pain and discomfort, constipation or diarrhea, bloating and flatulence. In chronic cases, all of these symptoms can be experienced, as well as spasms and cramping in your digestive tract and even symptoms like dramatic weight loss.

It does not cause perpetual damage to your the gastrointestinal tract, but if left untreated it can add and cause further complications in your life, such as anxiety and stress.

Yes, you read correctly. Anxiety and stress can cause IBS, but these two other health problems can also be caused by the way your mind feels about what is happening to you. This is often problematic for people with anxiety problems to begin with, kind of like a ‘catch twenty two’ situation. They are apprehensive about something, which gives them abdominal cramping and diarrhea, which makes them even more anxious and tense.

Those types of people could really benefit from relaxation therapy (see below) to structure the way they feel, rather than find a digestive remedy which they would have to put into their bodies when there really could be no need.

Negligible Bowel Movements After Stomach Pain

Do you get pains in your lower abdomen signalling that you will ‘soon’ need to visit the bathroom? And then when you go to relieve yourself, you only pass a small amount? But when you are done with your ‘visit’, you get those same feelings that you need to go again, even though you have just been.

This is one of the most common and frustrating symptoms of diarrhea sourced IBS. The pain is often unbearable and you can really get bloated, passing more gas than you do stool.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Diagnosis

Diagnosis is unfortunately a process of omission because the symptoms are not distinctive of IBS, meaning that there are several other common gastrointestinal disorders which can also cause any of the same symptoms.

Most doctors in the United States will often discount these other medical complaints that cause diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and bloating, before diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome. They will first eliminate illnesses like:

  • Gluten intolerance (Celiac disease)
  • Overload of bacteria in the intestines
  • Parasitic infection
  • Lactose intolerance

When any other illnesses have been eliminated, your doctor should work with you to figure the cause of your discomfort with a view to finding a treatment which is going to suit you.

However, I live in the United Kingdom and my personal experience was a doctor diagnosing me as having an irritable bowel the first time I presented the problem to him. He prescribed bulk forming ispaghula husks, which did not help my problem and in fact made it a lot worse.

I am not saying that this type of treatment does not work, it just did not work for me. My situation was not that simple, and if yours is also not then we hope we can help you resolve your problem in this article. So I practically figured my own diagnosis after disappointing visits to the doctor and then designed a ‘management program’ to reduce and eliminate my symptoms, which involved making a lot of changes to the way I live.

How to Treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome

If you do have IBS, then the first thing you should really be doing is making sure you are eating a healthy diet and drinking the correct amount of water (or other fluid), and regularly. But personal choice will usually decide on whether you manage your condition with only a natural means, some type of therapy or with an over the counter medication.

By managing your stress, diet and your lifestyle more effectively you could really get your symptoms under control. It really could be as simple as ‘chunking’ everything in your life into those three things, which could dramatically and rapidly improve the quality of your life. And what I mean by chunking is turning what you deem as massive changes, into what is a lot less work.

Managing IBS by Reducing the Stress in Your Life

We briefly talked about relaxation techniques above, but if you can master one of these ways of making your life run that much smoother, you really could calm your tummy troubles.

1. Meditation – is a way of altering the way your mind thinks about a given task, problem or realization. In our ‘normal’ living, when our brain receives a signal (for example, the kids are screaming and arguing on what should be a nice, peaceful Sunday morning) and you just let rip screaming and shouting at them to be quiet.

Your physical and emotional reaction is evidence of the level of stress you are in at that point in time. And it is these type of situations (perhaps not always the kids, maybe a work situation erupts and you get to a similar emotional and physical state) which could put you at risk of triggering an IBS attack.

But with meditation, you would learn to concentrate your focus on something else which would lead you to taking control of your mind, which greatly affects those reactions which could reduce and help cure your symptoms. You can read more and learn a few basics of meditation here.

2. Yoga – is an ancient method of using meditation and gentle physical exercises (stretches) to alter your state of mind, with a view to making things seem more tranquil. It’s aged methods have become very popular in today’s modern society to help reduce the stress in ones life, by helping you to ‘let go’ of certain negative aspects that face you day to day.

And by helping you to let go of these negative things, Yoga practice can release the stress of a normally busy and egotistic way of life. Read more about becoming a ‘Yogi’ here.

3. Tai Chi – has two basic forms. The first being the hand movements which you are probably already aware of after seeing them on television or in the park first thing in the morning.

The second form of Tai Chi is to do with health. It is believed in ancient and traditional Chinese medicine, that the human body has meridians or links around the human body which transport an energy form called Chi.

One aspect of traditional Chinese medicine uses acupuncture to rectify negative flows or imbalances in the Chi energy within our body, should it arise. The other side of Tai Chi (previously mentioned) is the hand movement and posture ‘exercises’.

Performing these exercises whilst focusing on your breathing helps to channel (Chi) energy along the meridian channels in our body, making you feel very relaxed and helping you to tranquil your thoughts thus reducing your stress. Discover Tai Chi here.

Managing IBS by Making Changes to Your Diet

You may have already been told to change your diet by perhaps increasing your dietary fiber intake, or eliminating ‘this’ food or ‘that’ but the truth is (as we talked about earlier) that while one type of diet might help someone else, it may not work for you.

Altering and improving your diet to the correct types of food can only be done for you, by you – only you will know how your body reacts to different food types. As with the diagnosis of IBS there is a process of elimination, there is a further process of elimination that you should do to find out which foods are causing your irritable bowel.

You can then avoid in the future or substitute with something else.

Most often it is an imbalance of fiber in your body which is attributable to your upset stomach. So how do you know how much (and what type of) fiber you should be consuming?

You don’t. Not until you make a food diary, which can tell you what you ate that either helped or disturbed your digestive system. You should record everything you eat, drink and do. It might seem like a lot of work, but it will be worth it in the end if you can live a better life.

Make an Irritable Bowel Syndrome Diet Plan to Keep Track of ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’ Foods

Your IBS (diet) plan should contain each aspect of your life, from your food intake, your activities, your mood and your emotions. Make a note of everything you eat (and drink) and what of those foods set off your irritable bowel, as well as how as how you are feeling.

The reason I say that is to know when you are stressed, when you are anxious and at what times of the day it occurs. For example¬† if you are under pressure in your job on a particular morning or afternoon, at home raising a family or perhaps both – juggling a career and raising your children. It’s important to make a note of exactly what affects you, so you can make an intelligent decision about your way forward.

If you don’t want to buy a diary, you can always use a spreadsheet. I have designed a simple one for you. It’s pretty basic, but you can keep it safe on your PC or laptop and you can easily refer to it every day.

You don’t have to know how to do anything other than to adjust the date across the top of the page and make your notes.

Follow these instructions:

  1. First download a free copy of Libre office here (Your spreadsheet won’t open unless you do this first).
  2. Then download your FREE IBS diary here. It includes instructions on how to set the date as well. All you have to do is unzip it and save to any folder on your computer.

Then you should easily be able to find out what is causing you the most problems. Is it too much fiber? A lack of water? (Don’t forget you need around two liters of water/liquid a day to keep your body functioning properly). Or is it your annoying boss giving you a hard time in work, and giving you stress?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Treatment – What Are Your Options at the Pharmacy?

If you are the type of person that readily prefers to use a drug treatment first (because you know it works), or if you’ve tried every other alternative which we have discussed and it has failed to remedy your problem, then your next step is probably going to be a natural remedy or prescription drug.

Here your choices of prescription medications.

Which one of that list that will work best for you will be down to the type of IBS you have (diarrhea or constipation), or it will be found through your experimentation. This is normally done with your physician who will prescribe these medications. Your other and I suppose ‘preferred’ choice is then a natural remedy.

What Natural Remedies are Available for IBS?

You could use a form of probiotics to treat your condition, which are available to buy at your local supermarket or chemist. Probiotics are amazing, friendly little bacteria which work wonders for our digestive system, that can be found in products like yogurt and milk drinks.

Or you may prefer to try a natural supplement which you can find in many places, from shops to online. And we have created a buyers guide to help you decide which one is best for you in terms of your body type and your budget. You can access it here – ‘buyers guide to natural remedies for IBS‘.

Our overall feeling about IBS is that in most cases, it is the way twenty first century people have continued to develop their lifestyle into the complete opposite of what it should be. An that is moving about and eating naturally occurring foods.

Of course, there are many recorded cases of irritable bowel in people who live a very healthy lifestyle. In these situations, it a huge matter of doing the best you can to cope with and manage the symptoms in which ever way you decide to.

I live by one rule that defines how my body functions day to day. And that is, what you put into your body and how you treat it, will ultimately decide on the quality of life you live. I am not preaching to you that you should only eat naturally occurring foods or that you should go for a ten mile run each morning, but you need to take great care with that vessel which is transporting you through life.

About Andy

I have a huge interest in keeping the digestive system in a very healthy condition, because I know from my own personal experience that when you do have problems with your digestion, it can also have many adverse affects on your overall health. You can subscribe to my free daily news paper at Improve Your Digestion and follow me on Facebook or on Twitter.

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