When is my diarrhoea a sign of IBS?

While there isn’t a cure for IBS-D, there are treatments that can improve the quality of your life and help you feel better.
While there isn’t a cure for IBS-D, there are treatments that can improve the quality of your life and help you feel better.

Most of us have experienced some mild gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort, such as gas, pain in the lower stomach, bloating and constipation or diarrhoea.

When it comes to the last two, it might be as a result of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

IBS, a chronic gastrointestinal disorder, results in unexplained abdominal discomfort and pain. The condition also causes changes in bowel habit and consistency. 

IBS that causes increased diarrhoea is often called IBS-D. 

When does occasional diarrhoea cross over into IBS territory?

IBS, like most syndromes, is a diagnosis that consists of a list of symptoms. Currently, there is no test that tells you if you have IBS-D or any sort of IBS for that matter. Instead, your doctor will look at your health history and symptoms. 

These are the typical symptoms of IBS that could be accompanying your diarrhoea: 

  • Bloating
  • Gassiness
  • Erratic bowel habits
  • Heartburn
  • Unexpected urges to have bowel movements
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loose stool
  • Inability to completely empty bowels
  • Frequent nausea 

However, do not panic if you experience any of these symptoms as it does not necessarily mean you have IBS-D. You should, however, head to your doctor if any of these symptoms persist for more than a month. 

If you have any other symptoms, like rectal bleeding, rapid weight loss or a family history of gastrointestinal cancer, your doctor may prescribe tests to rule out other possibilities.

How is IBS-D treated? 

Getting relief from your IBS-D will take time and effort on your part. You will probably need to try several strategies in order to find what works best for you and is most beneficial for your health. 

Possible treatments include: 

  • Diet changes

While food and beverages do not cause IBS-D, some may trigger the symptoms and make the condition worse. Caffeinated drinks, alcohol, chocolate and fizzy drinks, fried food, and milk products can all aggravate your IBS-D.

Fibre is recommended for those who suffer from IBS with constipation (IBS-C); however, if you have IBS-D, too much fibre can make your symptoms worse.

It will take time for you to figure out which whole grains, beans and vegetables your gut can tolerate. Make sure to drink at least six to eight glasses of water each day as diarrhoea can cause dehydration.

  • Over-the-counter medications

Anti-diarrhoea medications may help with your condition. Experts believe probiotics, which essentially is good bacteria, can help relieve IBS-D symptoms. You can get them in the form of supplements at your pharmacy. 

  • Prescription medications

There are several options your doctor can prescribe, all depending on the severity of your condition. 

  • Stress relief

Stress and IBS have been found to be linked. Stress and related issues such as anxiety do not cause IBS-D but they can cause your symptoms to worsen.

Exercise can help you feel better and improve the way your bowel functions too. Yoga, hypnotherapy and massages may all help to lessen your symptoms. 

Image credit: iStock

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