How to cope with Irritable Bowel Syndrome
PUBLISHED: 01:16 28 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:37 20 February 2013
One in five people in the UK develops Irritable Bowel Syndrome, IBS, at some stage in their life, says Sussex GP Dr Tizzy Camilleri
IBS can affect anyone at any age, but commonly first develops in teenagers and young adults. It is twice as common in women as in men.
There are no abnormalities in the structure of the bowel and the cause of IBS is primarily unknown, although it is thought to be due to a functional bowel problem. It is attributed to an overactivity of the bowel which has been linked to stress.
People experience a variety of symptoms, many of which are common to other bowel problems, making it sometimes hard to differentiate from more serious bowel ailments. However, the marked difference between IBS and more serious pathological bowel conditions (such as bowel cancer) is the fact that in IBS the symptoms are intermittent and not associated with other concerning symptoms such as weight loss, permanent loss of appetite and passing blood. It is always advisable to discuss your symptoms with your doctor, especially if you have any of the concerning symptoms above or have a family history of serious bowel problems.
The following features are classic of IBS:
Pain and discomfort, which occurs in different parts of the abdomen. It is usually spasm like pain, intermittent and eases when you pass stools or wind.
Abdominal bloating, which is intermittent and normally occurs with episodes of increased wind.
Alternating episodes of diarrhoea and constipation. Often the stool is pellet like and may have mucus mixed in.
The feeling of needing to go to the toilet again soon after opening your bowels.
Urgency to open your bowels. A morning rush is common usually during or after breakfast.
Other symptoms include nausea, headaches, belching, feeling tired, lower back pains, heartburn and bladder symptoms (associated irritable bladder).
Probiotics have been found to be useful in settling symptoms. These can be bought either in the form of a tablet, or found in some yoghurts, milk drinks and cheeses.
Medication can be used to help reduce abdominal spasms, diarrhoea and constipation. Low dose antidepressants can play a part in helping people with more severe and chronic symptoms.
IBS does not affect you long term and it does not increase your risk of getting other serious conditions. Treatment can help ease symptoms but overall the management of the condition is through a change in lifestyle. For more support and advice visit www.theibsnetwork.org
Ways to manage IBS
There is no specific treatment for IBS but the main way to manage symptoms is through lifestyle changes. These include:
Increasing the amount of fibre (soluble types, e.g oats, nuts seeds, some fruit and vegetables and ispaghula which can be bought from chemists in a powdered form).
Having regular meals, which are eaten at a leisurely pace. Avoiding missing meals or leaving long gaps between eating.
Drinking at least eight cups of fluid per day, especially water or other non-caffeinated drinks such as herbal teas.
Restricting caffeinated drinks to 3 cups a day (as caffeine is a stimulant and can worsen IBS).
Reducing fizzy drink intakes to a minimum as well as alcohol and smoking.
Limit fresh fruit to three portions per day.
If you have diarrhoea, avoid sorbitol, an artificial sweetener found in sugar-free sweets (including chewing gum), drinks and some diabetic and slimming products. If you have a lot of wind and bloating, consider increasing your intake of oats (for example, oat-based breakfast cereal or porridge) and linseeds (up to one tablespoon per day), which can be bought from health food shops.
Regular exercise has also been found to help ease symptoms of IBS. This works indirectly by reducing stress and anxiety and thereby improving symptoms.