April is IBS Awareness month, highlighting a condition suffered by up to 20% of the UK population at some point in their lives. But what exactly is IBS and how can you manage your symptoms if you are a sufferer?
What is IBS?
IBS is a catch all term for a range of bowel symptoms that do not have an obvious cause. These can include constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and wind, and your bowel habit may alternate between loose and compacted stools from one day to the next. IBS symptoms often come and go, with periods of relative normality in between, depending on what you eat, how much exercise you take and how stressful your life is.
The symptoms can be very uncomfortable and can significantly impact on your quality of life, and so it is no surprise that many people with IBS suffer from depression or anxiety as a result.
What causes IBS?
As the term ‘syndrome’ suggests, conventional wisdom has it that the cause of IBS is unknown. Some researchers suggest it is due to over-sensitivity in the bowel, while others suggest neurological problems with the link from the gut to the brain. Some researchers say that IBS is a purely psychological problem, even though it can produce very real symptoms.
However, the very latests research from the United States may provide a breakthrough in identifying the cause. Dr Mark Pimentel, from Cedars Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles has carried out research that suggests that between 40% and 84% of cases of IBS could be caused by bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine – called SIBO.
Can IBS be treated?
Many IBS sufferers are told by their doctor that there is nothing that can be done; that they simply have to learn to live with their symptoms. However there are a number of things you can do to manage your IBS symptoms and make your life more comfortable and more manageable.
- Change your diet – many people find that IBS is triggered by certain foods or food groups. Keep a diary to help you to identify and eliminate the trigger foods.
- Take more exercise – exercise helps the bowel to work effectively, so even just a short walk each day can make a real difference
- Reduce your stress level – many people find that the gut-mind link means that they experience more symptoms when they are stressed, so develop ways to combat stress, such as meditation or yoga
- Visit your therapist – if you still experience IBS symptoms, especially constipation and bloating, colon hydrotherapy can be a real help in providing relief.
The future of IBS treatment
Dr Pimentel’s work in the United States includes the use of antibiotics, such as rifaximin, to treat SIBO and the associated IBS, however this treatment is not widely available here in the UK as yet. What’s more, while these antibiotics may be successful in treating SIBO, there are other things to consider in using antibiotics in this way, so this may not be the ‘miracle solution’ IBS sufferers have been waiting for.
As an alternative, you can try following a diet that is designed to combat SIBO, such as the low FODMAP diet. This removes the complex carbohydrates that the small bowel bacteria thrive on, naturally reducing their numbers. You can find out more about low FODMAP diets online, however you should only follow this kind of diet in association with a qualified nutritionist. Your ARCH therapist should be able to recommend someone near you.
ARCH therapists are here to help
It is important to remember that IBS symptoms are very common and nothing to be ashamed about. You don’t have to suffer in silence or struggle on alone, because your local ARCH therapist is here to help with advice on diet, exercise and stress management, as well as practical help in relieving your symptoms.
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