One in five of us will suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) at some point during our lives. No-one is quite sure what causes it but stress and diet are believed to play a key role.
IBS is a distressing long-term condition that can cause: stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation. It can have not just a physical but also an emotional impact, affecting quality of life to a greater or lesser degree.
Symptoms of IBS vary from person to person and can range in severity. Someone with the condition can go for months without any symptoms and then suddenly have a flare-up lasting anything from a few days to a few months. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men.
With IBS affecting so many people in the UK, we took a look at some of the latest research and new developments in the treatment and management of the condition…
An under-diagnosed condition
IBS can be difficult to diagnose and a recent online survey showed that many people with the condition remain undiagnosed and untreated.
The survey found that 43% of patients who met the criteria for IBS were undiagnosed and 53% had never seen a GP about their symptoms.
In the UK estimates suggest it takes four years between developing symptoms and receiving a diagnosis of IBS. Lack of confidence amongst clinicians is believed to be a factor as IBS shares symptoms with many more serious diseases like cancer.
Trulance is a new drug that has been developed by Synergy Pharmaceuticals to treat chronic idiopathic constipation associated with IBS. While the drug has been approved for use in the US is it currently undergoing Phase III Clinical Trials in the UK.
In a recent randomised trial, acupuncture was shown to make a difference to the symptoms suffered by IBS patients in the first year.
However, by year two there was no statistically significant difference in the symptoms of IBS patients having acupuncture and those who weren’t.
In the first year, acupuncture was shown to improve abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhoea, and also tiredness.
IBS can be painful and debilitating which can have a negative impact on quality of life and mental health. A number of different psychotherapies can help but Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT has been shown to have the biggest impact on day to day functioning of IBS sufferers.
This was followed by hypnosis, psychodynamic therapy and relaxation.
Research into gut bacteria
Bacteria in the gut appear to influence the severity of IBS symptoms according to recent studies. Diet and medication did not appear to affect gut bacteria but there does appear to be a particular microbiome (set of gut bacteria) associated with severe IBS symptoms.
Some people who suffer from IBS use cannabis and cannabinoids to alleviate symptoms. A new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published in January 2017 concluded that evidence on its effectiveness is insufficient, however, and more research is needed.
Meanwhile, Axim Biotechnologies has begun clinical trials into the use of a cannabis-based chewing gum for the treatment of patients with the condition.
While no cure exists for IBS, researchers are working hard to find effective ways to manage the condition so that sufferers can lead a normal life and keep their symptoms under control.