Living with IBS-D: How Not to Let Diarrhea Ruin Your Life
Living with IBS-D can be debilitating. Learn how complementary therapies, alone or combined with Western treatments, can help you live a less-painful life.
·December 8th, 2021
Living with IBS-D impacts the quality of your life. Finding the right treatment can help manage your irritable bowel syndrome and ease your symptoms.
Western medications like alosetron, antidepressants, and mast cell stabilizers are used to treat IBS-D but have side effects and may not offer full relief.
Complementary therapies like acupuncture, moxibustion, and dietary changes can help improve your quality of life by reducing your IBS-D symptoms.
Living with IBS is challenging. All types of irritable bowel syndrome impact quality of life, but diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D) may be the hardest subtype to live with. Fortunately, some treatments can help reduce your symptoms of IBS-D and improve your quality of life.
Living with IBS-D
Irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea (IBS-D) is a common disorder of the gastrointestinal system. About 10 to 15% of the world’s population suffer from IBS symptoms, including abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea. People suffering from IBS-D typically experience more frequent bowel movements and loose stools.
Common IBS-D symptoms
In addition to more frequent bowel movements, people with IBS-D also experience feelings of urgency when they have to use the bathroom. It can make them feel panicked, knowing they need to get to a bathroom fast.
People will receive an IBS-D diagnosis if they experience these symptoms at least once per week for a minimum of three months with onset at least six months prior to diagnosis.
Symptoms vary among individuals, and your diet, stress levels, and lifestyle can affect the severity of your IBS-D symptoms. The more severe your symptoms are, the greater the condition’s impact on your life.
What causes irritable bowel syndrome?
There is currently no known cause for any of the subtypes of IBS, though scientists are looking into several possibilities. Possible causes include:
Brain-gut connection. Researchers are looking into how your gut, brain, and nervous system communicate and work together. Problems with this interaction may cause some of the symptoms of IBS-D.
Food sensitivities. People suffering from IBS-D may be sensitive to certain food groups or additives that can irritate their gut.
Inflammation of the gut lining. The tissue of your digestive tract may become inflamed due to a viral or bacterial infection. Some people continue to experience inflammation in their gut lining after the infection passes, which may cause their IBS-D symptoms.
Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Some people suffering from IBS-D have this underlying condition as well. The excessive bacteria in their gut affects the motility of their small intestine. Scientists are exploring if SIBO plays a role in IBS-D.
Alosetron is currently the only drug used to treat IBS-D. This pharmaceutical can alleviate abdominal cramping and pain associated with diarrhea and slow down colon and bowel transit times.
Unfortunately, some side effects are associated with the drug, including an increased risk of developing ischemic colitis and chronic constipation.
However, other medications have off-label uses for treating IBS-D. For example, tricyclic antidepressants have been shown to provide pain relief and improve gut-brain axis modulation.
Mast cell stabilizers, which are commonly used to treat asthma and allergies, and 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA), used to treat Crohn’s disease, are powerful anti-inflammatory agents which can decrease gut irritation and pain due to IBS-D.
Complementary therapies that help IBS-D symptoms
While conventional treatments work for many people with IBS-D, others find they don’t control their symptoms as well as they would like.
Diet and lifestyle changes are usually the first treatment method providers suggest for IBS-D. A change in diet alone may be enough to relieve symptoms in some people. In others, dietary therapy and other complementary therapies often work well alongside a conventional Western treatment plan to provide further reduction in IBS-D symptoms and improve quality of life.
Here’s a list of complementary therapies, often also known as integrative therapies, that are proven to be helpful to people with IBS and may reduce the abdominal pain and diarrhea associated with IBS-D.
Diet is often a first-line recommendation for treating IBS, and a low-FODMAP diet is one of the most frequently recommended to improve IBS symptoms.
FODMAPs is an acronym for food groups that include:
Fermentable oligosaccharides, including galacto-oligosaccharides and fructans
Disaccharides like lactose
Monosaccharides in the form of fructose
Polyols like mannitol and sorbitol
The small intestine has trouble absorbing these short-chain carbohydrates, which create more fluid in your bowel, raising the risk of loose stools and diarrhea. They also are more easily fermented by the bacteria in your gut, creating more gas and abdominal pain.
With a low-FODMAP diet, you’ll eat fewer foods that contain FODMAP carbohydrates. You may change which fruits, vegetables, and grains you’ll eat.
Scientific studies have shown that a low-FODMAP diet improves IBS-D symptoms. The majority of participants felt less abdominal pain and distention, experienced less gas, and had fewer incidents of constipation and diarrhea.
However, adherence to a low-FODMAP diet can be challenging, and some experts don’t recommend following it strictly, fearing it may be too restrictive for good overall health.
For that reason, it’s a good idea to work with a nutritionist or dietitian, who can ensure that your diet remains healthy. They can also help you identify the specific food groups that are causing your problems so you can avoid just those foods. Eliminating fewer foods from your diet has the added advantage of making your new eating habits more satisfying and easier to stick with.
Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles at specific energy points on the body. According to Eastern thought, this therapy unblocks energy channels (called qi), improves circulation, boosts nervous system health, and can reduce symptoms of certain medical conditions.
Western researchers don’t yet understand exactly how acupuncture works, but theories include that it works by promoting circulation, stimulating the nervous system, and releasing endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.
Despite the uncertainty, acupuncture is increasingly becoming more mainstream in Western medicine as research proves its benefits.
Moxibustion is a complementary therapy that can be used alone but is often combined with acupuncture to augment the effects of the needles. It involves burning herbal cones made of moxa (also called mugwort) near the skin of the affected area. The intention is to warm the acupuncture points and promote a better flow of qi.
Don’t miss out on living your life because you’re dealing with symptoms of IBS-D. Bright Belly can connect you with gut specialists who understand that any treatment needs to offer a substantial reduction of your symptoms to improve your quality of life.