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Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Month

Did you know that April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Month? Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or "IBS", is a digestive condition that is characterized by chronic abdominal pain and an alteration in normal bowel habits (such as constipation or diarrhea), with no known identified cause. IBS affects both men and women, younger individuals, and older adults. However, women and younger individuals are more likely to be diagnosed with IBS. It is estimated that 10 to 20 percent of people in the general population experience symptoms of IBS.

What are the symptoms?

  • Abdominal pain: Usually described as cramping pain, often right after eating.

  • Altered bowel habits: Ranging from diarrhea, constipation, or a combination of diarrhea and constipation.

  • Other gastrointestinal symptoms: Abdominal bloating, increased gas production, feeling full, nausea, and heartburn.

The exact cause of IBS is unknown, however there are a number of theories about how and why IBS develops:

  • Gut infection – May be linked to a prior infection or event which disrupts the normal function of the intestines including, but not limited to; food poisoning, travelers’ diarrhea, surgery, and antibiotics.

  • Stress & Anxiety – Are known to affect the intestine, and may worsen symptoms.

  • Food Intolerances – Are common in people with IBS. A number of foods are also known to cause symptoms that mimic or aggravate IBS including dairy products, legumes, and certain vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage)

What can make you feel better and how is IBS treated?

  • Symptom monitoring – The first step in treating IBS is usually to monitor symptoms and daily bowel habits to help identify factors that may worsen symptoms. This can be done by starting a diary to track what you did, ate and how you felt every day.

  • Diet changes – Try and eliminate foods that might aggravate symptoms, such as lactose and foods that are known to cause gas. Ask your doctor or nurse for advice on which foods can make IBS worse.

  • Increasing dietary fiber – Extra fiber may relieve symptoms of IBS, particularly if you have constipation. This can be done by eating more fruits and vegetables, or you can take fiber supplements such as pills or powders.

  • Exercise regularly. Studies show regular exercise improves IBS symptoms. Do something active for 20-60 minutes, 3-5 days a week.

  • Get enough rest. Fatigue and a lack of sleep can worsen the symptoms of IBS.

  • Minimize stress and tension. Yoga, meditation and slow relaxed breathing techniques can help manage stress and anxiety.

  • Limit intake of caffeine, alcohol, carbonated drinks and fatty foods.

  • Follow through on an urge to have a bowel movement to help improve symptoms.

  • Medication – Certain medications can be used to relieve symptoms of IBS and altered bowel habits. This can be discussed with your doctor or nurse.

For more information on IBS please ask your healthcare professional, or visit the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation at

Submitted by Kathleen Hall a Registered Nurse at Health Matters Medical Clinic


Uptodate – Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome in adults, Arnold Wald, MD and Canadian Digestive Health Foundation –

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