Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects between 25-45 million people in the United States. Approximately 10-15% of adults in the world have IBS. It is possible for people with Pulmonary Fibrosis to also have IBS. Though it might seem difficult or embarrassing to talk about, we receive several emails and anonymous questions in our online group about symptoms such as gas, bloating, and incontinence. 

What is IBS? IBS is a disorder characterized by abdominal pain and a wide range of symptoms, such as diarrhea, constipation, or alternating episodes of both. IBS can also adversely impact people’s mood, causing anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges. Feeling anxious and stressed about any of these things can also worsen IBS symptoms. This is because IBS impacts gastrointestinal functioning. It is often called a “brain-gut” disorder because of the way that the brain, gut, and nervous system interact. 

There are over 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract. Together, they are known as the enteric nervous system, or ENS. The ENS is designed to control many aspects of digestion – such as swallowing, releasing enzymes to break down food, control blood flow to absorb nutrients, and more. It communicates back and forth with your brain to assist with each step of this process. When the gastrointestinal system is experiencing irritation, however, it sends signals to your mind that trigger mood changes. These changes can be stressful, which can lead to more gastrointestinal irritation. Many people with IBS are familiar with this unpleasant cycle. 

What is the impact of IBS? For some people, IBS is a mild inconvenience. For others, it is severely debilitating physically, psychologically, emotionally, socially, and more. Community members in our online group and support group have repeatedly shared that IBS noticeably impacts their quality of life. 

What are the symptoms of IBS? People with IBS may experience abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating, a sense of gaseousness, and a change in bowel habits (diarrhea and/or constipation). Symptoms can vary. Only a medical professional can diagnose IBS. 

How is IBS treated? There is no cure for IBS, yet; however, there are ways to manage your symptoms and feel relief. This can include evaluating and improving your nutrition, trying natural therapies, and taking dietary supplements. For example, many people have reported improvements by eating foods that contain probiotics and by taking a probiotic supplement with their meal. Interestingly, because of the brain-gut connection, studies have shown that probiotics can help people with their IBS symptoms and their mental health! From increasing serotonin production to breaking down toxins, the numerous reported benefits could considerably improve a persons mood, digestion, and more. 

If you have PF and think you may also be experiencing IBS, please consult your team of health professionals to learn which treatments may be best for you.

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