What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a disorder that occurs in the colon/large intestine. IBS can cause various problems for sufferers including bloating, cramps, abdominal pain and flatulence. Some IBS sufferers also suffer with either constipation (IBS-C) or diarrhoea (IBS-D) and in some cases patients can suffer with both these problems (this is known as IBS-A). IBS is a condition that requires medical intervention and can only be managed over a period of time.
Causes of IBS
The cause of IBS is still unknown at this stage but there are few theories.
- IBS may be caused by a sensitive colon/large intestine.
- The brain of people suffering with IBS may sense contractions in the digestive system more severely than those who do not suffer from IBS.
- IBS sufferer’s immune systems might respond differently to stress and infection.
- As around 70% of IBS sufferers are women, IBS might be triggered by hormonal changes.
IBS can be triggered by many things including:
- Different food types including complex carbohydrates, caffeine, fatty foods and alcohol.
- Menstrual cycles can cause more IBS symptoms, linking it with reproductive hormones.
- Emotional distress.
Doctors do know that:
- IBS is not caused by structural problems in the digestive system.
- IBS is not caused by physical or chemical disorders.
- IBS is not caused by cancer and cannot cause cancer itself.
- IBS cannot cause other gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease.
IBS is diagnosed when a patient has suffered from some of the symptoms for a period of 6 months with symptoms having occurred around 3 times every month for the last 3 months. The most common symptom is abdominal pain or discomfort. If this pain or discomfort adheres to two of the following characteristics then IBS is generally causing the problem.
- The abdominal pain or discomfort is relieved with defecation.
- The abdominal pain or discomfort occurs with a change in frequency of defecation.
- The abdominal pain or discomfort occurs with a change in the appearance of the patients stools.
In recent times it has become easier to diagnose IBS by using the Rome Criteria, a specific list of symptoms (some mentioned above). If certain problems are found during the evaluation, the patient can be sent for further testing to check for other digestive system disorders that may share similar symptoms. Some of these problems include weight loss, low blood count and rectal bleeding.
As it affects sufferers differently, treating IBS usually takes some time before your doctor and yourself have a strategy in place that can help effectively. There a number of factors that can be taken into account when treating IBS.
- Medication can help to treat specific symptoms of IBS, but as IBS is a chronic condition, taking medication over a long period of time must be cautioned against. Treatment options include:
- Antispasmodics: These can help to treat abdominal cramps and pain.
- Medication for the treatment of diarrhoea.
- Medication for the treatment of constipation.
- Probiotics: Although a fairly new treatment, probiotics have found to help in the treatment of IBS in some patients. They do this by helping to balance the digestive system.
- Antibotics: These can be used to target excessive bacteria in the small intestin
- DietEating a healthy diet and keeping portions small can help to lessen IBS symptoms.
- Keep a food diary as a helpful way to record what symptoms might result from eating certain types of foods. If you find a food that seems to bring on symptoms of IBS, remove it from your diet for a long period (3 months) and see if helps reduce some symptoms. If the symptoms continue, move onto another food that you each regularly and repeat the process. Foods that often can cause IBS are vegetables that produce flatulence, caffeine, alcohol and artificial sweeteners. Eat small meals, more frequently. IBS is caused when the digestive system reacts excessively to certain stimuli including those found in dietary substances.
- Try the FODMAP diet. This looks to eliminate foods containing fermentable sugars including fructose and lactose, sorbitol and frutans, which are found in wheat. These foods can produce flatulence, bloating, diarrhoea and abdominal pains. For a list of recommended FODMAP diet foods, click here.
- Fibre can play a very important role in the fight against constipation associated with IBS-C. Insoluble dietary fibre or supplements in the form of polycarbophil and psyllium can help to promote bowel movements and move food through the digestive system. Other sources of fibre can include fruit, vegetables, whole grains and beans. A diet high in fibre can help to keep the colon/large intestine slightly distended and can help stop spasms. A word of caution, increase your fibre intake slowly as high fibre diets can lead to flatulence and bloating.
- Psychological treatment
- Certain psychological treatments can help to reduce symptoms of IBS. These include:
- Cognitive-behavioural treatment.
- Stress management techniques.
- Meditation techniques.
- Relaxation methods.
These treatments can help to reduce some of the discomfort in the abdominal area, as well as the distress caused by IBS. They can also teach sufferers coping mechanisms to handle the symptoms of IBS.
- ExerciseExercise is an often overlooked factor in the fight against IBS. Exercise can help to relieve stress (a factor in IBS) as well as helping your digestive system function properly. Try to exercise for 20 to 30 minutes a day, three to five times a week to help with IBS symptoms.