Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of a group of conditions called functional gastrointestinal disorders. Functional refers to disturbances in the function of the gut, without any physical abnormalities such as inflammation or abnormal blood tests.
People suffering from IBS can experience a broad range of symptoms including:
- Abdominal pain and discomfort
- Changes in bowel habit
- Excessive wind
- Urgency to use the toilet
- A feeling of incomplete emptying after passing a stool
However, as the symptoms typically associated with IBS can also be associated with other conditions or diseases, it is important to exclude all other gastrointestinal disorders.
Firstly, I recommend you speak to your GP. Your GP may recommend some investigations to rule out, for instance, coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel disease (i.e. Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis). These diseases cause inflammation of the gut wall and left untreated, can lead to other serious problems including nutritional deficiencies and some cancers. If you have had other conditions ruled out, a diagnosis of IBS might be made.
Your GP should consider assessing for IBS if you present with one or more of the following ‘ABC’ symptoms over the last least six months:
Abdominal pain and discomfort
Changes in bowel habit
Furthermore, a diagnosis of IBS should be considered if any pain or discomfort is either relieved by opening your bowels or associated with altered bowel frequency or stool form and is accompanied by two or more of the four symptoms:
- Altered passing of stools (straining, urgency, incomplete emptying of the bowel)
- Bloating, distension, tension or hardness
- Symptoms made worse by eating
- Passing of mucus
What is IBS and what causes it?
The cause of IBS is not known. It may be the collection of symptoms that characterise IBS have more than one cause, and this is why people respond to treatment varies so widely. Some people are diagnosed after a bout of gastroenteritis or food poisoning, this is known as post-infectious IBS (IBS-PI). Other factors thought to cause IBS include visceral hypersensitivity (i.e. a more sensitive gut); changes in the way the gut moves food through the gut; changes in gut bacteria populations, and disturbances in the way the brain processes information from the gut. We also know that lifestyle factors, such as diet, stress and exercise can affect IBS symptoms.
IBS treatments include:
- Lifestyle advice including changes to your diet and activity levels. Recently, the low FODMAP diet has been shown to improve symptoms in around 70% of patients.
- Medication to help treat pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea and other symptoms.
- Talking therapies including counselling and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).
What do I do if I suspect I have IBS?
Make an appointment with your GP! It is important not to make any changes to your diet before undergoing any tests, because changing your diet may interfere with the results. Arrange to see a Dietitian who has experience in this area.
For more information, book a FREE 15-minute consultation with me. Book via my website www.cambridgedietitian.co.uk or call 07741474076.