IBS Everything You Need to Know and How to Manage It
Each year April is recognized as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month and is dedicated to providing support and information for those living with irritable bowel syndrome.
As a Specialist Gut Health Dietitian, I have fixed 1000s of people over many years. I work tirelessly to ensure the right personalised advice is dispensed in a world of misinformation and quackery.
I am keen to raise public awareness of this common condition and remove any stigma associated with it so have hopefully covered what you need to know in this blog and supporting further, this important month of IBS awareness.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and What Causes It?
IBS is a common digestive disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It can be a challenging condition to manage, but with the right treatment, it is possible to live a normal, healthy life.
IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder that affects the large intestine. It is a functional disorder, which means that there is no structural or biochemical abnormality that can explain the symptoms. IBS is characterized by a group of symptoms that occur together, including:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Changes in bowel movements (diarrhoea, constipation, or a combination of both)
- Mucus in the stool
- A feeling of incomplete bowel movements
The severity of IBS symptoms can vary from person to person. Some people experience mild symptoms that do not significantly impact their daily lives, while others have severe symptoms that can be disabling.
Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
The exact cause of IBS is not known. However, there are several factors that may contribute to the development of the condition. These include:
- Abnormal muscle contractions in the intestine: The muscles in the intestine may contract too strongly or too weakly, leading to changes in bowel movements. Abnormal muscle contractions in the intestine can lead to a variety of changes in bowel movements. When the muscles contract too strongly, it can cause severe pain and diarrhoea, while weaker contractions can result in constipation and bloating. In either case, these issues can disrupt everyday life and be very uncomfortable. Treatment for abnormal muscle contractions includes dietary changes, medications, physical therapy, or even surgery.
- Nervous system dysfunction: The nerves that control the muscles in the intestine may not function correctly, leading to abnormal contractions. Nervous system dysfunction can cause a wide range of gastrointestinal problems. When the nerves that control the muscles in the intestine do not function correctly, it can lead to abnormal contractions and other symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and constipation. Treatment options vary depending on the underlying cause, but certain medications and lifestyle changes may help to alleviate symptoms.
- Inflammation in the intestine: Some people with IBS may have low-grade inflammation in the intestine, which can cause symptoms. Studies have shown that low-grade inflammation can lead to uncomfortable and disruptive symptoms. This inflammation is believed to be caused by an imbalance of bacteria and other microbes in the gut microbiome, as well as an overreaction of the immune system. Treatment options for this type of inflammation include dietary changes, probiotics, medications, and lifestyle modifications.
- Changes in the gut microbiome: The gut microbiome is the collection of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. Changes in the microbiome can affect the function of the digestive system. The gut microbiome plays an essential role in the functioning of our digestive system. It is a complex network of microorganisms that can be affected by our diet and lifestyle choices. Changes in the gut microbiome can lead to digestive issues, nutrient deficiencies, and even mental health conditions. Understanding how to maintain a healthy gut microbiome is critical for overall health and well-being.
- Food intolerances: Some people with IBS may be sensitive to certain foods, such as gluten, dairy products, or FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) Food intolerances can be a difficult reality for many people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). With the help of a specialist Gut Dietitian like me! individuals with IBS can identify trigger foods that may cause them discomfort.
- Stress and anxiety: Stress and anxiety can affect the function of the digestive system and trigger IBS symptoms. Stress and anxiety can wreak havoc on the human body, and the digestive system is no exception. Research has shown that when individual experiences prolonged stress or anxiety, it may trigger symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea. Studies have also found that changes in diet, lifestyle habits and psychological therapies can help reduce these symptoms.
Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
The symptoms of IBS can vary from person to person. As mentioned some people may experience mild symptoms, while others may have severe symptoms that can significantly impact their quality of life.
The most common symptoms of IBS include:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort: This is the most common symptom of IBS. The pain may be crampy, sharp, or dull and may be relieved by passing gas or having a bowel movement.
- Bloating: This is a feeling of fullness or swelling in the abdomen.
- Changes in bowel movements: IBS can cause diarrhoea, constipation, or a combination of both. Some people may experience alternating diarrhoea and constipation.
- Mucus in the stool: Some people with IBS may notice mucus in their stool.
- A feeling of incomplete bowel movements: Some people with IBS may feel like they need to have a bowel movement but are unable to pass stool.
Diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
There is no specific test for IBS. The diagnosis is based on the presence of symptoms and the exclusion of other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), coeliac disease, or colon cancer.
IBS may coexist with other gastrointestinal disorders or medical conditions such as anxiety or depression. A thorough medical evaluation by a qualified health professional is necessary to rule out other underlying causes and make an accurate diagnosis of IBS.
Your doctor may perform several tests, including:
- Blood tests: Blood tests can help rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.
- Stool tests: Stool tests can help rule out infections and other conditions that can cause gastrointestinal symptoms
Treating IBS with Medications and Other Alternatives
While there is no considered cure for IBS, there are several treatment options available to help manage symptoms. Medications such as antispasmodics and antidepressants are often first-line options prescribed to reduce abdominal pain and control diarrhoea or constipation.
More often than not these may work for a short period of time but do not get to the root of the problem and symptoms remain or come and go.
I see and treat patients daily who have often been battling this syndrome for many years with minimal guidance. It is really upsetting to know they have been suffering so long.
Fortunately by using a bespoke individualised dietary programme these life-changing symptoms can pretty much disappear. The patient’s quality of life is back to where it should be and better!
An IBS Dietary Programme that works
Having practised for over 25yrs as a Dietitian my training is extensive but I still continue to understand and learn about our bodies and how to help optimise them.
The science isn’t settled, so every day is a learning day, but ultimately my foundations remain the same.
My favourite part of our specialist 121 Dietitian Gut Health programme is when patients return to their review clinic or online appointment and they are looking happy, relaxed and in CONTROL!! Their symptoms have gone and they can’t truly believe it!
Best still you are fixed in 2 sessions!!
Other alternatives such as stress management techniques, probiotics, and supplementation may also be beneficial in treating IBS symptoms and are also treated as part of our bespoke package mentioned above if required.
So, what to do next about your IBS, gut health or anything else..
If you are unsure of why you are suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms, wish to change your eating habits or need help optimising the foods you eat and are not sure what programme to select please do contact us. We would love to help you or your family and friends with any nutrition-related queries big or small.
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