If you are one of the millions of Americans who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you might think you know a thing or two about it.
In the last few years, however, almost everything has changed about the way IBS is diagnosed and treated. Many former “facts” are now debunked myths. Find out the new help for IBS sufferers.
Myth: There’s no way to diagnose IBS
New practice guidelines make it easier for your primary care provider to diagnose IBS. In many cases you won’t even need to see a gastroenterologist. Talk to your doctor if you have recurring abdominal pain or discomfort at least a few days a month, along with troublesome bowel habits, gas or bloating.
Myth: What you eat doesn’t have much to do with IBS
Fact: This false impression is easily created by well-meaning health care providers who say, “You can eat whatever you want,” when it would be more accurate to say, “You can eat whatever you can tolerate.” Most IBS sufferers eventually find out differently: it does matter what they eat, it’s just hard to figure out which foods are part of the problem. Australian scientists recently came up with a new and often effective approach to managing IBS by eating less of certain types of problem sugars and fibers. It’s called the FODMAP approach, and it’s a big improvement over the hit-or-miss dietary changes you many have tried in the past. Foods you might be eating that have loads of FODMAPs include yogurt, apples, pears, onions, garlic, wheat, hummus, and beans. Surprised to see these healthy foods on the list? Sometimes it’s just too much of a good thing.
Myth: People with IBS should take fiber supplements
Fact: Many experts have come to the conclusion that fiber therapy doesn’t work to help the vast majority of people with IBS. Though fiber has many health benefits, the IBS gut often responds poorly to fiber supplements and certain high fiber foods such as wheat bran and legumes. This myth also illustrates the misguided notion that any one nutrition prescription is right for everyone with IBS. If it were that simple, we wouldn’t have 40 million people in this country suffering from IBS. An experimental mindset is the most useful way to proceed. If fiber helps you, that’s great! If not, move on after a fair trial.
Myth: You’ve got to learn to live with IBS
Fact: This may have been true in the past; standard treatments for IBS such as fiber supplements, high-fiber diets, anti-depressants and anti-spasmodics often failed to help. Doctors and patients alike were often at a loss. Today there are many new therapies for IBS, ranging from low FODMAP diets to probiotics to new classes of drugs. If you’ve been living in an uneasy truce with your IBS, it’s time to put IBS back on the agenda for your next doctor’s appointment.
Patsy Catsos, MS, RD, LD is a Portland, Maine registered dietitian in private practice. She is the editor of www.ibsfree.net and the author of IBS—Free at Last! Second Edition.