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Cheat Sheet

IBS For Dummies

From IBS For Dummies by Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, L. Christine Wheeler, MA

If you think you may have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you'll want to find a doctor who's been successful at helping people manage the condition. Chart your symptoms before you confer with your doctor about irritable bowel syndrome the first time, and reduce or eliminate common foods and other factors that often trigger the onset of IBS.

Finding a Doctor to Treat Your Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Living with irritable bowel syndrome means finding a caring doctor with a history of working with IBS patients. How do you do that? When you meet a new doctor for the first time, take this list of questions along with you.

  • Do you have patients with IBS? This may be the only question you need to ask. Keep in mind that up to 20 percent of the population suffers from IBS. If a doctor says that she doesn't have patients with IBS, she may have selective vision.

  • What do you think causes IBS? Lots of theories exist about what causes IBS. Ideally, you want a doctor to admit that the medical community hasn't identified a single cause, but many triggers (such as diet and stress) play a role. If he claims to know what causes IBS 100 percent of the time, ask for clarification, and be prepared to walk away.

  • How do you diagnose IBS? If your doctor mentions something called the Rome II criteria, that's a great sign. You also want to hear that she runs tests to rule out other bowel conditions, as well as to rule out conditions with similar symptoms.

  • What role does diet play in IBS? Most people with IBS are very aware that what they eat can trigger symptoms. You want your doctor to know that connection exists as well and to be aware that food allergies and intolerances can masquerade as IBS.

  • How do you treat IBS? You want to hear a doctor say that a variety of treatment options exist, and the right treatment plan is one that you and he create together. He should mention the importance of improving your diet, getting regular exercise, and reducing stress. He may also mention medications or dietary supplements. An answer focused solely on medications should raise a flag: While drugs help some people with IBS, they don't cure the condition, and they don't work for everyone.

Charting Your Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

If you think you might have irritable bowel syndrome, collect various pieces of information so you can have a fruitful discussion with your doctor about your condition. For example, determine if anyone in your family has a history of IBS, and figure out when your symptoms began. Also, create a record of the treatment options you've tried and how successful they've been.

It's also useful to fill out a questionnaire about your symptoms, such as the one below.

Describe your symptoms. Circle all that apply.

Abdominal cramping
Abdominal pain on the left side
Diarrhea
Bloating
Constipation
Straining with a bowel movement
Gas
Other _______________________________________
____________________________________________

How long have you had these symptoms? Circle one.

A few weeks
About 12 weeks
About 6 months
Less than 1 year
Less than 5 years
5 to 10 years

How often do you have these symptoms? Circle one.

Once per month
Once per week
Every day
Several times per day
Constantly

Eliminating Common Triggers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

An IBS trigger is something that sets off a chain reaction in the body leading to symptoms of pain — and diarrhea or constipation (or both). Stress can aggravate your IBS symptoms so consider yoga, meditation, or other stress-busters. A few specific foods, ingredients, and medications can also trigger the symptoms. Here's a short list of items that commonly cause IBS to flare up; you might want to avoid them while you're getting your IBS symptoms under control.

  • Alcohol

  • Antibiotics

  • Aspartame

  • Carbonated beverages

  • Dairy

  • MSG

  • Processed foods

  • Spicy foods

  • Sugar

  • Wheat

  • Yeast

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