What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome? 

IBS and its symptoms

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a frustrating, long-term or chronic condition that affects the functioning of the bowel. Around one in five people suffer from IBS and it's unpleasant symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, gas, mucus in the stools, and alternating diarrhoea and constipation. Other names for IBS include ‘spastic colon’ and ‘irritable colon’. IBS is what’s known as a functional disorder. This means that although there’s a change in how your gut functions which leads to physical symptoms, we can't actually see the physical damage via examinations. It’s one of the most common problems of the digestive system but because of it's functional nature, it can be difficult to treat and manage.

People with IBS have sensitive bowels that are easily ‘upset’. The exact cause is unknown, but environmental factors such as changes of routine, emotional stress, anxiety, infection and diet can trigger a flare up. Fortunately, IBS doesn’t cause lasting damage and doesn’t contribute to the development of serious bowel conditions, such as cancer or colitis, but can have a terrible impact on your quality of life. IBS is twice as common in women as it is in men and often develops in the late teens or early 20s. Having a close relative with IBS may slightly increase your chance of having it.

What are the symptoms of IBS?

Some of the more common signs of IBS include:

- abdominal pain that can be relieved by passing wind or going to the toilet

- a feeling that the bowels aren't completely emptied after a bowel movement

- alternating diarrhoea and constipation

- abdominal bloating

- mucus present in the stools

- excessive wind

- nausea

Often, one IBS symptom will occur more often than the others – either constipation (IBS-C), chronic diarrhoea (IBS-D) or alternating between the two (IBS-A). It’s important not to self-diagnose IBS because a number of other conditions, such as coeliac disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, lactose intolerance and endometriosis, have similar symptoms. So to exclude other possible diagnoses, see a medical professional for a diagnosis.

Treatment for IBS

Unfortunately IBS cannot be cured with medication or special diets, instead it must be managed. There are various ways to manage IBS including:

- eating more dietary fiber with plenty of water

- reducing or eliminating dairy foods (if lactose intolerance is a trigger)

- reducing or eliminating common gas-producing foods, such as cabbage and beans

- antidiarrhoea medication - these can be a key part of managing diarrhoea-predominant IBS (IBS-D)

- pain-relieving medication

- treatments to treat constipation (food like prunes are a natural option)

- a low FODMAP diet (certain carbohydrates (sugars) that are found in a whole host of different foods)

Recently, a team from Monash University, led by Dr. Simone Peters, found that gut-directed hypnotherapy reduced the symptoms of IBS in 3 out of 4 patients by a staggering 80%! This is comparable to the low FODMAP diet, except you won't need to change your diet to see the effects. The study also found that a using a low FODMAP diet along with gut-directed hypnotherapy didn't actually increase the levels of symptom reduction. You can find Dr. Peter's gut-directed hypnotherapy program in the Mindset app.

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