Sudden Changes in Bowel Habits?

Do you get cramping, need to make several trips to the washroom or go from sudden diarrhea to constipation? It could be irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Good news! There are things you can do to help your symptoms.

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What is IBS?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a disorder of your digestive system due to ongoing problems with motility and sensitivity.

Motility refers to how your bowel moves stomach contents through your intestines.
Sensitivity describes how your brain interprets bowel sensations.


In a nutshell, if you have IBS, you may have a highly sensitive bowel. While some people find IBS pain annoying, others find it unbearable.

Did you know Canada has one of the highest rates of IBS in the world? It is one of the most common causes of absence from work and school.

Symptoms of IBS

IBS symptoms are often chronic (ongoing) and intermittent (come and go). They may last for months or even years.
Symptoms may vary from person to person and may include:
  • Gas, bloating, cramps
  • Abdominal pain related to bowel movements
  • Irregular bowel patterns
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea (especially after eating or first thing in the morning)
  • Alternating constipation and diarrhea
  • Strong urges to empty bowels
  • Mucus around or within the stools
  • Heartburn, nausea

Are there foods I should avoid?

Foods do not cause IBS, but some people with IBS report that their symptoms get worse if they consume certain foods, including:

  • Dietary fats
  • The food additive MSG (monosodium glutamate)
  • Raw (as opposed to cooked) fruits and vegetables
  • Caffeine or alcohol
  • Indigestible carbohydrates, such as beans or lentils
  • Lactose, the sugar found in dairy products like milk
But every person is different, and foods that produce IBS symptoms for some people won’t affect others at all. You should keep a food diary, to help identify any foods that may cause problems for you.

Does stress affect IBS?

Your mind and body are closely connected and one can affect the other. We know that stress can aggravate the symptoms of the IBS so taking action to relieve stress may help and it certainly can’t hurt. Some simple relaxation techniques that you can do at home include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Listening to soothing music
  • Reading a book
  • Body stretches or yoga

Did you know that about 5 million Canadians are living with IBS and it is estimated that about 120,000 more develop the disorder each year.

What can I do to relieve the symptoms of IBS?

The most important you can do is eat well, get plenty of exercise and manage stress.

If you suspect a particular food is making your symptoms worse, try removing it from your diet for 2-4 weeks to see if your symptoms improve. If your symptoms don’t change over that time, then that food is unlikely the culprit.

In addition, your doctor may prescribe prescription or over-the-counter products to help relieve specific symptoms, including:

  • Pain killers
  • Probiotic supplements (for abdominal pain, bloating or constipation)
  • Antispasmodic medications (reduce cramping and spasms)
  • Anti-diarrheal medications (if diarrhea is a problem)
  • Laxatives (if constipation is a problem)
  • Medications to manage other symptoms as needed

Important information

The Pharmacist at Walmart is knowledgeable about IBS and how to manage its symptoms. Just Ask !

This information should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your doctor. There may be variations in treatment that your physician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances. If you have questions about your symptoms, ask the Pharmacist at Walmart for more information, and/or contact your doctor.

The pharmacist at Walmart does not endorse or recommend any sponsor or their products or services.
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This article is intended as general information. Always be sure to read and follow the label(s)/instruction(s) that accompany your product(s). Walmart will not be responsible for any injury or damage caused by this activity.



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