Irritable Bowel Syndrome, commonly known as IBS, can cause discomfort and inconvenience to many who suffer. Around 1 in 5 people will experience IBS at some point in their lives, and women are twice as likely to be affected than men.
What is IBS?
IBS is a common gastrointestinal disorder diagnosed by chronic abdominal pain, discomfort, and altered bowel habits without any discernible structural or biochemical abnormalities. It affects millions worldwide and often presents with symptoms like diarrhoea, constipation, or a combination of both.
The causes of IBS
The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but factors such as stress, diet, and gut health play a role. Diagnosis is typically based on symptom criteria, ruling out other conditions, and may involve dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, and medication to manage symptoms. While IBS is not life-threatening, its impact on quality of life can be significant, necessitating ongoing management and support.
IBS can also be caused by intolerances to certain foods or drinks. Research has found that common triggers include alcohol, caffeinated drinks or fatty or fried food. Many also find that dairy and gluten can cause symptoms such as cramping and bloating.
Tips for treating IBS
There are a few ways to alleviate IBS symptoms, but each can vary from person to person. Treatments do not always stop symptoms completely, but they can be useful for tackling the severity of symptoms and improving your overall quality of life.
- Diet changes
By having a healthy balanced diet and regular eating times, can help balance IBS symptoms. Eating regularly and avoiding late-night meals, sitting down to eat and chewing slowly, can improve your digestive system dramatically.
Fibre: Ensure that you are incorporating fibre into your diet daily. By gradually increasing fibre intake through fruits, vegetables and whole grains, this can regulate bowel movements
Low-FODMAP Diet: If you have sought advice from a registered dietitian to do so, following a low-FODMAP diet can reduce foods from your diet which can cause issues. It is recommended on the FODMAP diet to avoid dairy-based products, wheat-based products and acidic fruits.
Stay hydrated: Water is the key to healthy digestion. It is important to drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and aid digestion.
- Stress management
Stress can be a leading benefactor of IBS. Without noticing, suffers can experience symptoms from underlying stress and strain on the body. There are different practices of stress management which can deter this from happening:
Relaxation techniques: Practice stress reduction through things such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to help manage IBS symptoms. Stress can exacerbate IBS symptoms, so finding effective ways to relax is crucial.
Regular exercise: Engage in regular physical activity to reduce stress and promote healthy bowel movements. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week, or aim for 10,000 steps a day.
If your symptoms do not improve with lifestyle changes, speaking to a medical professional may help. Depending on your symptoms and severity levels, a healthcare professional may recommend antispasmodic medications, laxatives, anti-diarrheal medications such as Imodium, or even low-dose antidepressants, which can alleviate pain and discomfort.
As IBS has a lot to do with gut health, some individuals with IBS may benefit from probiotics. Probiotics regulate gut flora and improve digestion, however, they do not always work the same for everyone.
- Lifestyle adjustments
Meal planning – Eating regular meals and avoiding large, heavy meals which can trigger symptoms. Pay attention to portion sizes of different food groups and chew your food thoroughly.
Keep a journal – By tracking your diet, stress levels and symptoms in a diary or journal, you can identify triggers and patterns. This information can be valuable for discussing symptoms and triggers with a healthcare provider.
Consult a specialist: If you are finding that symptoms are severe and do not improve with lifestyle changes or over-the-counter remedies, it may be time to consult a specialist. Specialists such as Mr Andrew Clarke work privately and specialise as colorectal surgeons. A specialist like this can help make recommendations or suggest other ways to relieve any symptoms and pain.
IBS can vary greatly between each individual, and what may work for one person, may not work for another. It is essential to keep track of key triggers and stressors and work closely with a healthcare provider to develop a personalised treatment plan. As frustrating and inconvenient IBS can be, persistence and patience will be the key to managing symptoms and figuring out a lifestyle which works best.