What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS, is a common gastro-intestinal condition that affects about 10-15% of people in the developed world1. There is a large variation across countries and regions and it is more common in women than in men.
Symptoms of IBS
IBS is a functional bowel disorder that consists of a group of different symptoms. It is called a functional disorder because no structural or biochemical causes can be found for IBS. IBS is not a transient disorder, it is often a relapsing and chronic long-term disorder which can have a major impact on the daily life and the social functioning of many sufferers, placing a significant physical and psychological burden on both them and those close to them.
Symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation and a change in bowel habits. These symptoms usually occur as acute attacks or episodes that subside over time, but they are likely to be recurrent.
The symptoms may vary and are often associated with the intake of food and typically, with bowel movements. The sensations of discomfort related to bloating and distension may be associated with urgency for bowel movements, which sometimes provides relief from the symptoms. People with IBS are also more prone to developing stomach reflux.
If you are suffering from IBS you may also experience additional symptoms relating to disorders such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, headache, backache, and psychiatric symptoms such as depression and anxiety.
Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Alteration in the gut microbiota may play an important role in the development of IBS and there is growing evidence that shows that IBS is associated with an imbalance in the composition of the gut bacteria. Genetic, environmental, and psychological factors, may also play roles in the development of IBS.
There are many health experts who believe that it may be due to a faulty connection between the brain and the intestinal tract (the gut-brain axis).
Additionally, symptoms can be precipitated by:
- an intestinal infection (post-infectious IBS)
- major life events, or a period of considerable stress
- abdominal and/or pelvic surgery
- antibiotic treatment
There are also certain foods and drinks that can trigger the symptoms of IBS:
- alcohol and fizzy drinks
- drinks containing caffeine
- processed snacks – such as crisps and biscuits
- fatty or fried foods
Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a complex disorder and there is no “one-size-fits-all treatment”. What may work for someone else, may not necessarily work well for you. You may also need a combination of different types of treatments such as medications and diet management. Your healthcare practitioners will be able to help you with the diagnosis and related medical treatment of IBS.
However, the symptoms can often be managed by changing your diet and lifestyle, and through understanding the nature of your condition. Keeping a food diary may be helpful to identify the foods and drinks that trigger your IBS.
Here are a few general eating tips:
- have regular meals and eat mindfully.
- try not to skip meals or go for long periods without eating.
- drink plenty of fluids during the day – particularly water.
- restrict the foods and drinks that trigger your IBS.
- keep a food diary to help monitor which foods cause your symptoms to flare up.
Some people find that exercise helps to relieve the symptoms of IBS. It’s important to find an exercise activity that you enjoy to help it become part of your daily lifestyle. The type of exercise you do may also help to reduce your stress levels, which can also reduce the frequency of IBS attacks as well as the severity of your symptoms. This could include physical activities such as yoga, pilates or tai chi. Even straight forward regular exercise such as running, walking, or swimming can help to reduce stress.
Alternatively you may wish to try other relaxation techniques such as meditation or breathing exercises.