What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, better known and abbreviated as IBS, is a common gastro-intestinal condition that affects about 10-15% of people in the developed world(1). 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. The presenting symptoms can be non-specific and may be experienced occasionally by almost every individual who suffers from the disorder. What is important, is that IBS is not a transient disorder, but rather a relapsing and chronic long-term disorder. This can have a major impact on activities of daily living and the social functioning of many sufferers, placing a significant physical and psychological burden on both them and those close to them. It also translates into a challenging economic burden that is not only related to healthcare costs, but to other indirect costs such as time off work and lost income.
The symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain or discomfort that is associated with diarrhoea or 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 in individuals, 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 because of this there is not a “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, therapy and alternative medicine. 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.
- make a food diary to help monitor which foods flare your symptoms.
Many people find that exercise helps to relieve the symptoms of IBS. It is important that you find an exercise activity that you will really like so that you can continue with this until it becomes a part of your daily lifestyle, and not start something that you are going to quit after a limited period. The type of exercise that 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.
If this is not sufficient you may wish to try other relaxation techniques such as meditation or breathing exercises.
There is now increasing scientific evidence that a disturbance in the balance of gut microbiota is common in individuals with IBS and may be the cause of symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, constipation and other digestive discomforts.
The use of particular supplements that address this issue are becoming more popular. One of these, Bimuno®, acts selectively on the good bacteria in your gut to stimulate their growth and activity.
Bimuno® IBAID (Intestinal Bifidobacteria Aid) pastilles contain an optimum dose for people with sensitive stomachs.