Irritable bowel Syndrome (IBS)
What is it?
It is important to remember that IBS is not actually a disease but rather a collection of symptoms which are due to impaired function of the gut. We all experience occasional abdominal discomfort or upset from time to time but for IBS sufferers, these symptoms can be prolonged and problematic. This common disorder affects your large intestine (colon) and in Ireland, up to 20% of adults suffer from the condition, with twice as many females to males living with it.
IBS commonly causes abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and alternating constipation and diarrhoea. These symptoms can occur for days, weeks, months or even years. As the symptoms mimic other bowel conditions, IBS is usually diagnosed through the elimination of other ailments with similar symptoms.
What causes it?
There are many proposed causes of IBS. The list of suspects includes:
Bacterial, parasitic or viral infections
Overuse of antibiotics
An adverse reaction or intolerance to a food such as lactose or wheat
One underlying factor in almost all cases of IBS is stress. There is a complex biological interaction between the brain and the gut. No matter the source or level of the stress, our gut will generally react in some way.
What can I do to manage my IBS?
In many cases, you can control your IBS by managing your diet, lifestyle and stress.
Here are a few simple tips to get started:
Identify certain trigger foods that aggravate your symptoms, remove these foods by process of elimination. This can take several weeks but if you can find the offending food then it’s well worth the effort.
Probiotics are cultures of the “Friendly Bacteria” vital for intestinal health, which help to digest food and protect against the growth of harmful bacteria.
Soluble fibre (which dissolves in water) is much better for helping IBS than insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre has a gentle and soothing action on the gut. Dietary sources include:
Psyllium husk soaked in in water or psyllium powder
Flaxseed (linseed) – whole rather than ground
Peppermint oil capsules – very effective in calming abdominal spasms