Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a functional bowel disorder where normal gut function is disturbed and may be associated with pain or discomfort. However there are no physical or structural abnormalities. It is often diagnosed in the absence of other diagnosis. IBS most commonly occurs in people aged 20-30. It occurs in women twice as often as in men.
The causes are not clear but may be related with over activity of part or parts of the gut. Food intolerance and stress may also contribute to an exacerbation of IBS symptoms. In some cases IBS may occur after an infection.
The symptoms that people report are pain and discomfort which is described as spasm or colic like. People often experience bloating and more wind than usual. You may also experience constipation or diarrhoea, often alternating between both. IBS may also be associated with nausea, headaches, belching, poor appetite, tiredness, backache, muscle pains, feeling full quickly after eating, heartburn and bladder symptoms.
IBS is usually treated through a range of diet, lifestyle and medication measures. Increasing fibre can help some IBS sufferers but may make others worse. There are two types of fibre; soluble and insoluble fibre. It is soluble fibre rather than insoluble fibre that help ease IBS symptoms. It is important for IBS sufferers to have more soluble fibre and minimise their intake of insoluble fibre. Dietary sources of soluble fibre include oats, nuts and seeds, some fruit and vegetables and pectin. You can also take ispaghula as a form of soluble fibre. Ispaghula can be found in Fybogel sachets found in pharmacies. Insoluble fibre is found in corn bran, wheat bran and some fruit and vegetables.
Antispasmodics such as Mebeverine, Hyoscine and Peppermint oil can help ease short term effects of IBS. It is also possible to treat diarrhoea and constipation that occurs with IBS with over the counter remedies. It is important to avoid sorbitol if you suffer from diarrhoea and increase your intake of oats and linseeds if you suffer from wind and bloating. Some studies have found that increasing the friendly bacteria in the gut can help alleviate symptoms of IBS, these are known as probiotics. The strain of probiotics that has been investigated most thoroughly is Bifidobacterium infantis 35624. You can find this strain of probiotic in the over the counter product Alflorex.
Lifestyle changes can also improve the quality of lives of IBS sufferers. These include taking regular exercise and avoiding stress. The following tips should be followed by people suffering from IBS:
- Have regular meals and eat at a leisurely pace.
- Avoid missing meals or leaving long gaps between eating.
- It is important to drink at least eight glasses (2litres) of water per day.
- Restrict tea and coffee to 3 cups per day.
- Restrict fizzy drinks to a minimum.
- Reduce alcohol intake
- Stop smoking
It is important to discuss your symptoms with your GP or pharmacist who can advise you on where to begin treating IBS.