The Similarities Between IBS and Food Intolerance Can Lead to Misdiagnosis

ibs food intolerance similarities

There’s no specific treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) although the condition affects millions of people. IBS is a common diagnosis not only for the condition, but also for other gastrointestinal disorders with similar symptoms. In fact, many times a food intolerance can mimic symptoms of IBS, leading to a misdiagnosis.

Painful bloating, diarrhea, and discomfort are just a few of the shared characteristics of both IBS and food intolerances. Medical professionals treating IBS commonly recommend that patients eat more fiber to keep everything moving through the gut, but fiber can exacerbate symptoms if the underlying problem is a food intolerance.

For food intolerances, avoiding foods that cause the symptoms is one way to avoid discomfort. For example, lactose (milk) intolerance can be resolved by avoiding dairy products. Sucrose (sugar) intolerance is a bit more complex; but people who lack the necessary enzymes to breakdown sucrose should avoid foods containing sugar.

Like sucrose intolerance, IBS is often hereditary, so taking a comprehensive family history can help distinguish between IBS and other disorders. IBS is more common in people under 50, in women, in those with a family history of IBS, and in individuals with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. IBS affects anywhere from 25 to 45 million people in the United States.

The exact cause of IBS is not known, but several factors play a role: changes in the muscle contractions in the colon, low-grade intestinal infection, and changes in the intestinal bacterial flora. One of the biggest problems in diagnosing IBS is the variations in signs and symptoms. Sometimes the symptoms are mild, sometimes severe, and sometimes not even present at all. People with moderate to severe IBS speak of a poor quality of life and mood disorders. These levels of IBS can make it difficult for people to perform ordinary daily activities like going to work or school.

Since anxiety is a major component of IBS, finding ways to relax can relieve the anxiety and help relax the bowels and get things moving, especially when paired with fiber and fluids. Getting plenty of exercise to help stretch the abdomen and support systems can also help with pain associated with IBS.

April is IBS Awareness Month, a month designated to spread information and knowledge about the syndrome that affects millions of people. If IBS runs in your family, or you experience diarrhea, constipation, or other abdominal issues on a regular basis, consider getting checked out so that you and your doctor can determine if you have the syndrome, a food intolerance, or another type of gastrointestinal disorder and plan accordingly.


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