Susan (not her real name) first heard the term irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in her 30s when she saw a gastroenterologist about her frequent bouts of abdominal pain and digestive discomfort. He explained to her that IBS was a term doctors used when there was no better explanation for the symptoms she described. She took that to mean there was little that could be done, and she resigned herself to living with pain and discomfort.
Over the next 30 years, Susan consulted various doctors, especially when the pain was severe enough to send her to the emergency room or she experienced diarrhea that was erratic enough to prevent her from leaving home. She tried every available prescription medicine and even underwent CT scans and a capsule endoscopy, but nothing produced answers or relief.
Finally, Susan asked her gastroenterologist whether diet might play a role, and she remembers him saying, "Sure, you could try a low-FODMAP diet."
FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) are short-chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed by the gastrointestinal (GI) tract in certain people and cause gas, abdominal distention, and pain.
Although another doctor had mentioned this diet to Susan years earlier, she had found it very hard to follow. However, after years of suffering, she tried it again and was impressed by the results. All her symptoms disappeared within a few days. For the first time in decades, she had a "normal constitution."
This is a common scenario, says Kristi King, MPH, RDN, LD, CNSC, senior pediatric dietitian at Texas Children's Hospital. "Often, patients with IBS make the initial connection between their symptoms and offending foods themselves and then go on to seek help from specialists."
Unfortunately, many clinicians are either unaware of the potential benefits of this dietary intervention or are more comfortable with the traditional pharmacologic approach of treating IBS.
"Raising awareness about the low-FODMAP diet among both clinicians and patients is very important because the two approaches can work together and are not mutually exclusive," King says.
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