April brings us bowel cancer awareness month as well as drawing attention to IBS or, as it is more formally known, Irritable bowel syndrome. Unfortunately, this taboo subject can be easily misdiagnosed, misunderstood and in most cases, not considered a disability even though it can be debilitating.
IBS is a chronic condition that needs to be managed long term and can affect your day to day abilities, including your work. Unfortunately, 1 in 20 of us will be diagnosed or suffer from IBS, with over one third being female.
Today we look at what irritable bowel syndrome is, how we can manage IBS and what treatment is available.
What is IBS?
IBS is a term used to describe symptoms from the gut area. These symptoms include stomach pain, bloating, changes within the bowel movement (diarrhoea or constipation or fluctuating )or all of the above at once!
Irritable bowel syndrome is not considered an illness but referred to as a condition, disorder or, as the name suggests, syndrome. This is because, in most cases, the gut is very healthy.
In many cases, Irritable bowel syndrome is associated with psychological disorders; in fact, 60% of IBS patients will meet the criteria for one or more psychiatric disorders. This is because our guts have what we call a GBA or Gut-Brain Axis. The GBA consists of bidirectional communication between the central and enteric nervous systems linking both emotional and cognitive centres of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. Dysfunction in the connection between the brain and the gut can cause the bowel to spasm and contract.
In short, your gut talks to your brain and vice versa. Unfortunately, those with IBS have a gut that overshares misinformation. The signals sent to your bowel are often after you have eaten or become stressed, causing the bowel to overreact.
Other symptoms of IBS include –
- Mucus when pooing
- Bladder issues
- Anxiety and depression
How can we manage IBS symptoms?
Typically, with irritable bowel syndrome, we have what we call “Triggers” this may be food, it may be anxiety, so we have to start by addressing those triggers.
Food triggers and IBS
As will all health issues, filling our bodies with nutritious, healthy foods helps us recover, both physically and mentally. Unfortunately, those who suffer from food triggered Irritable bowel syndrome get symptoms after indulging in fast food, milky coffees, and carbs.
Equally, your gut may not appreciate a specific type of fruit or vegetable.
A nutritionist or dietician will help you discover what foods trigger you and discuss in detail low FODMAP diets, which help bring your irritable bowel syndrome symptoms under control.
Stress triggered IBS
There are many ways to help control stress levels, allowing you to manage irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.
Again, as with food, any health issues you may have will benefit from exercise, be that mental or physical. Simple activities that you can incorporate into daily life such as walking, swimming and yoga will reduce stress and improve symptoms of IBS.
Meditation and diaphragmatic breathing can also be done from the comfort of your home.
Other routes to explore are gut-directed hypnosis, MBSR classes, and acupuncture.
In addition, studies show that over 70% of those participating in some form of meditation find a reduction in IBS symptoms and stress levels.
When should I see a doctor about my IBS?
We always advise you to see a doctor advise you further on managing IBS symptoms, but we also need to consider other root causes and, of course, rule out anything more sinister.
You should book your appointment straight away if you are experiencing –
- Weight loss
- Iron deficient anaemia
- Pain in the abdomen which is not relieved by bowel movements, including passing wind
- Unexplained vomiting
- Blood in your stool or rectal bleeding
- Uncontrollable diarrhoea
It is important to get thoroughly checked out to rule out any other bowel conditions, including bowel cancer. Our practitioners will be able to discuss your health condition and offer genetic testing for a wide range of cancers.
If you are concerned about any of the above or just want further advice about treatments and management of IBS, get in touch today.