gut health

IBS Is All Over TikTok. Here’s What The Experts Want You To Know.

Irritable bowel syndrome is more common than you think it is — especially in women.

Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images

There’s a recent TikTok featuring a young girl getting into her car to go home so she can deal with a minor — but quite disruptive — health issue. The text on the video reads, “GRWM [get ready with me] to have an IBS attack.” She lip syncs “Bad idea, right?” by Olivia Rodrigo throughout the video as she takes the viewer along to see the nausea, chills, hot flashes, and cramps she feels before she needs to... well, take care of business.

If you’re not familiar, IBS is irritable bowel syndrome. But if you’re on TikTok, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard of it since there’s an entire subculture around it, with dozens of “day in the life” videos dedicated to the, ahem, crappy condition. Or maybe you know somebody who has it. But what is it? And how do you know if you should ask your doctor about it?

Scary Mommy reached out to Dr. Yuying Luo, an assistant professor of medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. She explained that IBS can be various things depending on the symptoms a patient experiences.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms

The main symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and excessive gas. The symptoms can wax and wane depending on the person.

And while TikTok is great for introducing yourself to new topics, Dr. Luo warned that if you're dealing with any of these symptoms, as always, your best resource is your doctor. Although it can be awkward to discuss, Luo encourages anyone who has experienced these symptoms (or even more extreme ones like rectal bleeding and unintentional weight loss) to learn more about their family history. It's especially necessary for anyone with a family history of colon cancer or large colon polyps to consult a gastroenterologist.

How to Treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome

As IBS is a brain-gut disorder, it may be affected by anxiety or stress, in which case brain-gut behavioral therapy may be used. "There's a whole host of studies out there showing that there is a lot of benefit for things like gut-directed hypnotherapy, as well as cognitive behavioral therapy, to improve some of these symptoms," Dr. Luo says.

Sometimes, though, medication or even diet-based therapies are the solution. "A large majority of patients with IBS have, you know, food-related triggers in terms of the symptoms," explains Dr. Luo, "so it can certain foods may exacerbate their abdominal pain or bloating."

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Foods to Avoid

You may have experienced one of the symptoms of IBS, even just mildly, after having foods like garlic or onion. That's because they're high FODMAPs, which stands for "fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols." Basically, they're short-chain sugars that are not absorbed easily into the body and, as anybody who's ever overdone it on the cherries can attest, can therefore upset your digestion.

While avoiding foods that are high FODMAPs can be helpful, talking to a registered dietitian after a diagnosis by a gastroenterologist is advised. It might seem excessive for a few different experts to get involved in one person's care, but Dr. Luo says it's the best way to figure out how someone can adjust their diet to avoid symptoms while maintaining the same lifestyle.

"New moms or people who are trying to get pregnant, you don't want to be eating a very restrictive diet," Dr. Luo says. "Ensuring that there is thorough diversity in the diet, as well as adequate sort of nutritional intake, proteins, carbs, etcetera is vital."

IBS and Pregnancy

Interestingly, Luo explained that IBS actually seems to be more common in women than men. Although research is still developing, she says that many people develop IBS during pregnancy and postpartum, leading some to believe the development may be linked to changes in sex hormones. So, anybody currently breastfeeding who suspects IBS should talk to their doctor about a personalized approach to care.

"It's a little bit stigmatized to talk about... what's going on in the rear end," Dr. Luo acknowledges before adding, "But it's really important to pay attention to your body, pay attention to 'red flag' symptoms."