January 28


IBS – Should you be more concerned than you are?

By Sunny Brigham, MS, CNS, LDN

January 28, 2019

minutes read time


IBS can ruin your life. It can kill your mood in an instance. And make leaving the house totally un-fun. IBS is also very common today. In the US, about 15% of the population suffers from IBS.

But what is IBS and why do you get it? And more importantly, is there a cause for concern?

Several months back, I wrote a blog going over what IBS is and how many are diagnosed with it. You can check out that blog here.

IBS can be caused by stress, diet, or bacterial overgrowth. There are other causes, but these are the most common. The problem is determining why you have IBS. As I mentioned in the previous blog linked above, IBS is a disease of exclusion. Meaning doctors diagnose you with IBS after they’ve ruled out anything “major.” But IBS is a big deal!

The symptoms are annoying. And long-term IBS can lead to greater health issues.

In this blog, I’m going to run through downhill health concerns of long-term IBS. I’m also going to hit on one major concern you should have if you have IBS. Let’s get to it!

Quick Recap

Let’s do a quick recap from the previous blog.  Here are the common symptoms most people experience with IBS:


Abdominal pain


Painful Gas

Rectal bleeding


Wavering from constipation to diarrhea

Some may have all the symptoms.  And some may only have one or two symptoms. In my experience, IBS comes on like a bat outta hell! No warning. No small symptoms leading to bigger symptoms. One day you’re great and the next day it takes everything you have not to poop your pants.

The most common causes I see in my practice are stress, bacteria, and slow digestion. There are a ton of other reasons people develop IBS…this is what I see most.

If you’re interested in taking a deep dive into IBS, Sara Kahn, MS, CNS has a detailed page on causes of IBS, symptoms, and how to heal.  You can check that out here.

Stress/ Anxiety

Stress and anxiety are both prominent causes of IBS.  Which comes first? IBS or anxiety? It’s sort of the like chicken or egg question. No one really knows. What we do know is IBS can make anxiety so much worse. Or it can bring it to light in someone that thought they may have it.

Ever worry about something and give yourself diarrhea? This would be why!

There’s a ton of research on the gut-brain connection. I wrote a previous blog on gut health and anxiety because those two are THAT closely related. You can read that blog here. Anxiety can be situational or constant. And it can come from a situation or develop out of nowhere.

We produce a large portion of our happy hormones in the digestive tract. When the gut is irritated, inflamed, or malfunctioning, you aren’t producing as many happy hormones as you should.

With reduced production comes an imbalance. You may be more irritable than normal. More tired than normal. More sad than normal. Or more anxious than normal. This is normal! You can recover with a little gut love ?

If we let stress, anxiety, and IBS run rampant for too long, we may create a breeding ground for bad bacteria. This is a major concern!

Downhill Health Concerns

With unchecked IBS, other conditions can appear. We already talked about anxiety…and that’s a pretty gnarly concern. But what about the others you may not be linking to your IBS?

What about joint pain? This is a big one that many don’t link to IBS. When your digestive tract is aggravated, inflammation is running rampant in the body.

Or high cholesterol? Did that cross your mind when you think about IBS? It should. High cholesterol is rarely linked to cholesterol in foods. It’s primarily linked to inflammation in the body. And since most inflammation starts in the digestive tract, IBS is a common cause.

Bloat is another one. Not necessarily a health concern but it’s frickin’ annoying. Bloat is a sign that something great is going on. It should never be ignored. When a client tells me they’re bloated, I start running my mental checklist of all the things it could be.

And then we have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).


SIBO is a big health issue and one many don’t know about. When I have someone with IBS coming to me for help, I’ll usually investigate SIBO as well. I do this because the two conditions are heavily linked.

SIBO is exactly as the name says…bacteria in the small intestine. Let’s have a little anatomy chat real quick. The large intestine (aka the colon) is the last stop for food before it’s eliminated from the body. This is where water absorption happens and fiber is fermented into good gut bugs.

The small intestine is where the breakdown and absorption of nutrients occur. We make some hormones in the small intestine as well. And the small intestine houses a good portion of the immune system. Crazy, right?

The last section of the small intestine is called the ileum and ends with the ileocecal valve. This valve lets waste move down to the large intestine and prevents backflow into the small intestine. Malfunctioning of this valve is a common cause of SIBO. And it comes with lower right abdominal pain that comes and goes throughout the day. This pain isn’t excruciating but more of an uncomfortable annoyance.

Digestive troubles are another big cause of IBS. Low stomach acid and slow motility rank at the top of the list. We need stomach acid to kill bacteria on the food. If the stomach acid isn’t there to kill it, bacteria is introduced into the small intestine. And when we don’t move the waste through the body at the rate we should, the gut bacteria are altered for the bad.

If you’d like to read more about SIBO, my good friend Sara has a great rundown on SIBO you can read here.

Wrapping Up

So, if you have IBS and aren’t thinking of SIBO, you should be. And if you have IBS but haven’t addressed it, you should. It’s not something you have to live with. There is a way to get you feeling better before you know it.

Do you have IBS? Have you looked into SIBO as being a source? Let me know in the comments your struggles with IBS or SIBO.

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