Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can have a profound effect on your life. If you are one of the 12 million or so people in the UK who suffer from the condition you may experience anything from mild to severe symptoms, including abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, constipation or a mix of the two.
Because we don’t yet know what causes IBS and because no two sufferers have the same symptoms, there is no single medication that can treat it. GPs may prescribe medications for treating diarrhoea or constipation, but there is no pill that you can take that will make all of the IBS symptoms go away.
That is why it is important if you have the condition to get to know your own triggers and to develop an effective self-care strategy.
As gastrointestinal experts, we advise our patients to look first at their diet.
Sometimes it can help to keep a food and symptom diary to help you determine which foods trigger your symptoms. As a general rule, small regular meals are best and people with IBS should avoid too much caffeine, fizzy drinks and alcohol.
There has been some success in treating IBS sufferers with a low-FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols.
Some people with IBS have found that these substances – which are found in hard to digest foods like onions, beans and milk – can cause a flare-up in their symptoms. FODMAPs cause extra gas and fluids that can build up in the intestines causing problems.
Cutting out these problem foods, at least temporarily, may lead to a relief from symptoms. There are other foods too that may trigger IBS symptoms, such as certain fats or allergens which is why it can be helpful to keep a careful log of foods and symptoms.
Stress is another factor that is believed to trigger IBS and many people who have generalised anxiety disorder display IBS symptoms.
Certain therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy or hypnosis as well as relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation have been shown to help in cases of IBS.
As with diet, not every stress management approach will work for every individual and it is often a case of trial and error to find which approach is most effective for you.
Exercise, too, can be beneficial as it both helps to reduce stress and can speed up digestive transit to prevent constipation. Gentle exercise is recommended if your IBS symptoms are diarrhoea rather than constipation.
Exercise not only helps relieve IBS symptoms but just 30 minutes most days can also decrease the risk of bowel cancer, so it is vital to get a routine in place.
Other remedies that appear to help include peppermint oil and probiotic supplement which help to improve the gut flora. Genetics and existing gut flora will affect which probiotics are most effective for individuals so, again, there is no one size fits all approach
Although IBS is a growing problem in the west and the symptoms can be debilitating, self-care strategies are proven to work.
Once you have a diagnosis of IBS – and it is important to get diagnosed because IBS shares symptoms with other more serious conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and bowel cancer – you should be able to develop your own approach to managing and gradually reducing your symptoms… without a magic pill to cure them.
Our doctors have specialist knowledge in diagnosing IBS and treating the symptoms.
There is no need to be embarrassed, we speak to people like you every day, who are experiencing the discomfort and limitations of living with IBS.
Contact our team who will book you in for an initial consultation to discuss your symptoms and explore your options for getting back to living a full life.