Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Introduction to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a chronic condition of the digestive system, which causes cramps, bloating and changes in bowel movements (diarrhoea and constipation).
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common condition which affects many people around the world. It is a chronic condition of the digestive system, which causes cramps, bloating and changes in bowel movements (diarrhoea and constipation).
Each person’s IBS affects them at different times, in different ways and at different levels of severity. It is thought that 20% of us will experience IBS at some point in our lives. It is most likely to occur in 20-30 year old and affects double the amount of women compared to men.
What causes IBS?
The mechanism of IBS is unknown. It is generally thought of as being related to digestion issues and increased sensitivity of the gastrointestinal system. The motility of the gut is affected causing food to be passed through too quickly or slowly.
Psychological factors play a role in IBS, with stress and traumatic events or intense emotional states acting as a trigger. In some people, specific foods and drinks can send them into an IBS attack and it is best that these triggers are identified and avoided.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
IBS symptoms come and go and most patients have attacks or flare-ups. The symptoms usually improve between attacks but the patient may never be fully back to normal. The symptoms can be triggered by a stressful event and/or certain foods or drinks. The common symptoms of IBS include stomach cramps, bloating and changes in bowel habit and stools. There is dull abdominal pain and cramps which can be relieved when patients go the toilet. The changes in bowel habit can lead to diarrhoea, constipation or both. Patients sometimes complain of excess flatulence (wind) and this can be related to bloating and swelling of the abdomen. When IBS patients go the toilet, they can feel like they have not fully emptied their bowel and sometimes pass a mucus alongside their stools.
IBS is associated with many other conditions such as depression and anxiety, which should be managed as part of your overall treatment. The condition can have a big effect on people’s lives which is why it is important to have effective management.
How is IBS treated?
IBS is associated with other conditions such as depression and anxiety which need to be managed. Antidepressants and therapy can help some patients by offering methods of reducing stress levels and coping mechanisms. Identifying trigger foods and drinks can improve symptoms by removing such items from the diet. Increased amounts of exercise and generally improving your diet can offer symptoms relief. Depending on whether there is diarrhoea or constipation, the patient should alter the amount of fibre in the diet. If stools are loose (diarrhoea), reducing the amount of insoluble fibre is recommended. Increasing the amount of soluble fibre is recommended for relieving constipation, as well as increasing fluid intake. Your doctor and/or dietician can provide a specialised diet which can relieve your individual symptoms.
Medication is useful for treating IBS; antispasmodics help relieve spasms and cramps, laxatives aid constipation, anti-diarrhoea medications can rapidly improve diarrhoea and antidepressants can reduce pain and cramping (as well as treating depression – although this main not be the main reason why you are prescribed them). Psychological treatments may be offered to provide education and coping mechanisms to reduce any stress, problems or worries you may have.