If you suffer from IBS symptoms during menopause, you know they can be uncomfortable and unnerving, and can even change how you live your life.
Victoria Drake ANP-C is a Nurse Practitioner-Certified at St. Lukes Roosevelt Hospital Center (NYC) and coordinates a Direct Referral Service for Colon Cancer Screening in the Department of Gastroenterology. Victoria gave us a rundown on the symptoms, facts, and some guidance on of the steps you can take to minimize the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome during during midlife. For more answers, contact the American Cancer Society.
Do you feel it in your gut?
- Sometimes it feels as if the food that I eat stops somewhere in my chest…
- High emotion wreaks havoc on my stomach……
- Frequent, loose bowels make me terrified to be out and about……
- I go for days without moving my bowels or feel that I can’t completely evacuate…
- The slightest thing that I eat makes my abdomen look seven months pregnant….
What’s the bottom line here?
Often, the woman who has had one or more of these complaints will undergo extensive gastroenterological testing only to be faced with the classic good news/bad news scenario. The good news is there tests are negative. The bad news is the tests are negative.
These chronic problems of gastric motility along with heightened perception to the point where even simple gas is a painful experience are the hallmarks of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). More women than men suffer with IBS and our bodies change in their ability to process food as we get older. In other words dietary patterns, such as long fasts and large meals, high fat foods or concentrated sweets that did not affect us when we were younger may play havoc with our wellbeing as we age.
To be sure, acute abdominal pain, bloody stools or constitutional symptoms such as fever or involuntary weight loss should always be evaluated by a gastroenterologist. It is also important to have age appropriate screening for colorectal cancer. However, at fifty (or even at forty) a woman can and should try to alter her dietary habits and manage stress responses in order to mitigate the negative impact of IBS on the quality of life.
Here is a checklist of actions and dietary choices that promote gastrointestinal health:
- Aim for or maintain a healthy weight
- Eat more frequent and smaller meals throughout the day. Avoid the pitfall of eating only when hungry or at night.
- Get your system acclimated to 25-30 grams of dietary fiber from a variety of whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables most days. Besides providing fiber, these healthy foods promote increased energy and vitality in a way that highly processed foods don’t. Fiber, the undigestible part of the foods we eat, is responsible for the consistency and bulk of our bowel movements. As full as certain foods can make us feel, without fiber, they will not result in a bowel movement that seems to correspond with intake.
- Aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.
- Actively manage stress with deep breathing, meditation, yoga, creative endeavors: whatever connects you to your higher or spiritual self.
The nature of IBS is chronic, episodic with waxing and waning phases. Continue to work with your gastroenterologist to address particular symptoms. There may be a role for antibiotics, probiotics, antispasmodics, certain laxatives, acid blockers or other classes of medication to help manage symptoms.