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Types of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is a disorder of the digestive system which affects approximately 1 out of every 6 people in the US (and about 1 out of every 2 in Mexico). IBS is not a disease, though its symptoms are similar enough to Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis that IBS is sometimes confused with other serious gut problems. Scientists are not entirely sure why IBS occurs. Sometimes it results after an infection. There may be other reasons that IBS develops in people who haven’t recently had an infection, but at this point no one knows what they are. IBS is twice as common in women as in men, and again, no one knows exactly why.

For a condition to be diagnosed as IBS, it must be present for at least three days out of the month for at least three consecutive months. This means that IBS can be a very minor condition. In some patients it doesn’t cause much hassle, while in others it is a daily, chronic, and debilitating condition. There are several different types of IBS.

  • IBS-C  —  This is IBS which is characterized by constipation. There may be other digestive annoyances present, but the majority of the time, constipation will plague patients with this condition, and not diarrhea. That or the constipation will be significantly more severe than the diarrhea.
  • IBS-D  —  This is IBS which is characterized by diarrhea. There may be other digestive problems (including constipation), but on the whole, diarrhea will be present most of the time and not constipation, or it will be noticeably more severe.
  • Alternating C/D IBS  —  This refers to a type of IBS which is characterized by diarrhea and constipation alike, but spread out across longer time periods. For example, you might have constipation issues for several weeks or months, and then switch to diarrhea problems for several weeks or months.
  • IBS-M  —  This refers to “mixed” IBS symptoms. It’s like the alternating C/D type of IBS, only the alternations happen much more quickly. Instead of having constipation or diarrhea for weeks or months before you switch, the switch could occur in a matter of hours or days.

In addition, you could place post-infectious IBS in a separate category as a type of IBS, though it may take any of the forms above (IBS-C, IBS-D, Alternating C/D IBS, or IBS-M). Post-infectious IBS is IBS that shows up only after you’ve had an incidence of food poisoning or a viral infection. You can think of it as a kind of “scar” which you retain after the infection. The initial infection is (usually—it’s important to check and make sure) dead, but some of its effects can linger for months or years. It’s not that your body is still compromised by the virus or bacteria or parasite, but your body still behaves as though it is.

Will My IBS Go Away?

Because IBS is so poorly understood, doctors don’t definitively know how to cure it. Some people have IBS for the rest of their lives, though even in these cases it is usually possible to treat it and reduce the severity of the symptoms. Determining which type of IBS you have can set you on the right track as far as dieting recommendations and natural balancing of the gut are concerned. Many people do make a full recovery from IBS. Finding a diet which is kind to your system, exercising regularly, taking fiber supplements and system/condition supplements specifically targeted at the issue (like Healthy Bowel Support or IBS Support Botanicals) can help. So can de-stressing. Anxiety can feed into IBS, so do your best to be optimistic and relax and carry on. That will make it more likely that with good nutrition you will make a full recovery.