Making bowel movements is, for most people, a regular occurrence that we don’t think about too much … until something is different.
And, if two things are different, it definitely gets our attention.
As strange as it may seem, there are people who have wondered if it is possible to have both diarrhea and constipation at the same time. The sensations may not seem real when someone suffering from diarrhea feels as though he/she hasn’t completely moved his/her bowels. Or, when someone has diarrhea, followed quickly by constipation.
This is actually a very common occurrence for people suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Adding Another Letter
IBS is often unpredictable, and—by definition—it is associated with altered bowel habits. There are several types of IBS linked with specific symptoms:
- IBS-D is IBS with chronic diarrhea
- IBS-C is IBS with chronic constipation
For those who have both diarrhea and constipation, there is a third type: IBS-A (for Alternating), also known as A-IBS and IBS-M (for Mixed type).
This type of IBS is labelled “alternating” because the sufferer goes back and forth between diarrhea and constipation, sometimes fairly quickly. Some studies have shown that people with IBS-A tend to have more stomach pain or discomfort than those with IBS-C or IBS-D.
How Common is IBS-A?
IBS-A actually may be the most common type of IBS. It is defined as more than 25% of stools being loose and watery and more than 25% of stools being lumpy and hard.
IBS is different for each person, and the alternating type of IBS is especially diverse. People with IBS-A report symptoms that are common in people who have IBS-C, such as straining, the feeling of having an incomplete bowel movement, and manual evacuation of the bowels. They also report urgency, which is more typical of IBS-D.
The changing nature of bowel symptoms can make it difficult to find strategies that bring about symptom relief.
What Causes IBS-A?
IBS-A may happen for a number of reasons, which can differ from person to person. Some possible reasons include:
- Nervous system disruptions
- Psychological factors (e.g., stress or past trauma)
- Digestive system bacteria
Mark Hyman, MD, Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, believes that there are two main causes of IBS: food allergies and overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. He stresses that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, but relief can be found if you look carefully at the underlying causes.
How to Treat IBS-A
Because there is no cure for IBS, the goal becomes to ease symptoms so you feel better and can live your life as normally as possible. Even physicians recognize that medications prescribed for IBS-A may only a short-term effect.
The challenge with the treatment of IBS-A is that you want to ensure that efforts to ease one bowel problem don’t inadvertently result in the opposite problem. For example, when constipation is the issue, you can increase your fiber intake. That will help to soften the bowel movements, but too much softening can lead to diarrhea.
With that said, there are several modifications that you can make to feel better, both physically and mentally, when dealing with this condition.
Changing Your Diet
Foods do not cause IBS, but eating certain food may bring on some IBS symptoms. You can ease these symptoms by changing some of your eating habits.
IBS sufferers typically have a list of problem foods that should be avoided:
- Milk and milk products, like cheese or ice cream
- Caffeinated drinks
- Carbonated drinks
- Artificial sweeteners
- Some fruits and vegetables
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important step to managing IBS symptoms. People with IBS-A need to monitor their fiber intake and adjust as needed to avoid the swing between constipation and diarrhea. Add foods with fiber to your diet a little at a time to let your body get used to them.
Additionally, drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water a day can be beneficial. Water can both help to treat the dehydration that sometimes happens with diarrhea and provide needed liquid to the digestive tract to help with constipation.
Finally, avoiding large meals is necessary, as these can cause cramping and diarrhea. Experts recommend eating 4 or 5 small meals a day, or eating less at each of your usual 3 meals.
Healthy Mind, Healthy Body
Many people who seek treatment for IBS also have anxiety, panic, or depression. Stress is also an issue for people with IBS because it can make your physical symptoms worse. Research shows that psychological therapy can help to combat, or lessen, IBS symptoms.
Therapies that can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety can include:
- Cognitive techniques that teach strategies for using the mind to deal with the world in a healthier manner.
- Behavioral techniques that teach person-specific strategies for handling and reacting to situations in a way that reduces unwanted symptoms.
- Hypnotherapy, where people enter an altered state of consciousness and given visual suggestions.
General stress relief is important, and exercising regularly is a good way to relieve stress. Regular exercise also helps the bowel function better and improves overall health. Meditation, yoga, and massage may also help to alleviate IBS symptoms.
IBS is a common disorder that can cause cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation. For IBS-A sufferers, the disorder causes both constipation and diarrhea in a quickly alternating fashion. Most people can control their symptoms by modifying their diet, adopting a healthier lifestyle, and avoiding or reducing stress.