Irritable Bowel Syndrome head pic

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Us Brits cringe when our doctor asks us about our “bowel movements”. I mean that’s personal stuff. However, for those of us who suffer with problems of “the bowel” it can be not only embarrassing but debilitating. Severe IBS can have a large impact on everyday life as it is painful, inconvenient and depressing. If you have been noticing frequent abdominal pain, problems with diarrhea or gas it’s probably worth a read on. Compare your symptoms with those of IBS and find out what you can do to help reduce your discomfort. Most people with IBS are able to get their symptoms under control with some lifestyle and dietary changes. If that doesn’t work there are some medications that may. So grin and bear the cringe and get it checked out.

+   Symptoms

  • Abdominal pain
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Mucus in stool (poo)

These symptoms will often go away or be reduced after you have been to the toilet. You will likely also have diarrhea or constipation or a mix of both.

  • Diarrhea
    • An urgent need to go the toilet
  • Constipation
    • Inability to poo or straining or cramps while on the toilet

Everyone will likely have some of these symptoms from time to time but that does not mean that you irritable bowel syndrome. If however you suffer from these symptoms for 3 days a month for the over 12 weeks you may have IBS or if you have persistent change in bowel habits and you should visit your doctor. They may run some tests to help rule out other conditions such as coeliac disease or lactose intolerance as some of the symptoms are very similar.

Luckily there is no long term damage done to the intestine by IBS. IBS also does not increase the risk of colon or bowel cancer.

+   Causes

There is no clear cause for IBS. Sometimes IBS can be traced to an intestinal infection but some people appear just to develop it in their late teens or early adulthood.

The doctors are not sure exactly what is going on with IBS but they think it is something to do with the how the nervous system is set up. The nervous system helps to control the colon contracting and relaxing the muscles in the intestine to move food along the digestive tract. In people with IBS theses contractions are often longer or stronger than in those without IBS meaning that food passes through your system too quickly causing symptoms such as gas, bloating and diarrhoea. People with IBS may also be more sensitive to pain in the gut.

There could be a connection between IBS and hormones. Though there is no definitive research to support this, women are twice as likely to get IBS as men and seem to have more severe symptoms around the time of their period.

+   Treatment

Most people with IBS will learn to control their symptoms through changes in their lifestyle and diet. Though there is no cure for IBS, the aim of treatment is to relieve symptoms.

Lifesytle treatments

  • Creating a healthy and regular sleep schedule can help
  • Doctors recommend that you exercise regularly preferably for around 30 minutes per day
  • Reducing anxiety and stress
    • Although stress itself does not cause irritable bowel it can make symptoms worse
    • Try some relaxation techniques such as meditation or taking a warm bath

Diet

Everyone is different and you may find food that triggers your IBS does not trigger IBS symptoms in other. Keeping a food diary for a couple of weeks in which you write down everything you eat and when your symptoms flare up may help you work out what makes your IBS worse. In general avoid foods that:

  • Stimulate the intestines
    • Caffeine
    • Hot drinks
    • Spicy foods
    • Alcohol
  • Avoid foods that cause gas
    • Carbonated beverages
    • Raw fruit and vegetables
    • Cut down on insoluble fiber
      • Bread
      • Cereals
      • Bran
  • Avoid eating large meals, eat regularly and slowly
  • If constipation is a problem try to increase the fiber in your diet but be aware it may make bloating worse. You can increase fiber through diet or through supplements
  • Stay well hydrated

Medicines

  • Antipasmodic medication
    • When taken before eating it will relax muscles in intestine and help to reduce abdominal pain and spasms
  • Laxatives
    • Used to relieve constipation
  • Antimotility medicines
    • Help with diarrhea

Many people with mild to severe cases of IBS will have at least one bout of depression. Living with IBS can be difficult and get in the way of normal day to day life. If this is the case for you and you are feeling down or blue because of your IBS you should talk to your doctor. They may prescribe a tricyclic antidepressant which may also help with your abdominal pain.

Remember however that sometimes symptoms of IBS can be similar to other more serious conditions and it’s important to discuss with your doctor.

IBS is a condition that is usually diagnosed as a result of excluding more serious conditions such as Coeliac disease (Gluten intolerance), Crohns disease (inflammation in the bowel) and Ulcerative Colitis (inflammation in the colon).

You should always report blood in your Poo! Or weight loss!

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