(Number 5 may surprise you.)
According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month.
Do you have IBS?
If so, then this article is for you. It provides facts, describes symptoms and tips to help you manage this often misunderstood condition.
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What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
- The term ‘irritable colon’ was first published in 1929 when Drs. Jordan and Kiefer used it to describe abdominal pain and disordered defaecation.
- It is not known what causes it. The symptoms may result from disturbances in the interactions between your gut, brain and nervous system. Therefore, causing changes in normal bowel movement and sensation.
- Common symptoms include abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. However, less common symptoms include: having an overactive bladder, PMS, sexual dysfunction, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, migraines and eating disorders. IBS can also happen with anxiety and depression.
- About 10-15% of the world’s population has it. In the UK, it’s believed that 1 in 20 people suffer from it. It can affect all ages but most sufferers are aged under 50. 2 out of 3 people with IBS are women.
- Stress is often blamed but it’s a trigger not an actual cause of IBS, though it can worsen its symptoms. It can’t be diagnosed via blood tests, stool tests, x-rays or tissue biopsies and therefore, there is no straightforward treatment plan available to help sufferers.
- IBS does not lead to more serious conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease or colon cancer and it rarely requires hospitalisation or surgery.
Note. If you have anaemia, bleeding, fever or unexplained weight loss, then please see your doctor.
The Impact of this Condition.
IBS can range from mild inconvenience to greatly affecting sufferers’ physical, emotional, economic, educational and social well-being.
The impact can cause the following behaviours like going all day without eating to avoid triggering debilitating pain or an uncontrollable urge to defecate, avoiding restaurants and socialising entirely and diet restricted to a dozen or so plain and bland foods.
Sufferers have even known to change their careers to accommodate their unpredictable bathroom needs.
How Can IBS be Managed?
Over-the-counter medications can be taken to treat diarrhoea and constipation.
However, there is no overall, quick fix for this condition.
Treatments that may help are acupuncture, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and hypnotherapy if you’ve got the money!
The key is identifying your trigger foods and drinks. The usual culprits are wheat and dairy products, alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods. However, everyone is completely different. Other foods like baked beans, certain fruit and vegetables and potatoes can also trigger IBS symptoms in some sufferers.
If you’re not sure, then keep a food diary and note any symptoms. Once you’ve identified your trigger foods, then you can avoid or reduce them in your diet. See your doctor for a referral to a dietician if your diet would be too restrictive with these changes.
Activities like walking and yoga helps with managing IBS but not really intense exercise.
Finally, find ways to manage your stress. Suggestions include walking, meditating, confiding to someone you trust, listening to calming music and having a relaxing bath.
For more information and support, feel free to check out:-
My Own Experiences and How I Manage IBS.
From my 20s, I regularly had a bloated belly.
By my 30s, it became worse; particularly when I consumed milk products and was stressed.
I saw my GP who told me that no test would be done to see if I was allergic/intolerant of milk unless, I had diarrhoea, vomiting and lost about half of my body weight!
As my 30s progressed, it got worse. I could fasten my pants in the morning but by the afternoon, I had to unfasten them and hoped they wouldn’t fall down! At times, I looked like I swallowed a football and was asked on a couple of occasions if I was pregnant.
By my late 30s, I experienced occasional nausea and by the time I was 40, I had stomach cramps and even vomited, at times when I was stressed.
I lost my pleasure in eating out, due to rushing to the toilet about 4 times in 6 hours to poo. This was what it was like for me one Christmas.
I often felt sluggish and had little energy.
I also felt self-conscious when I wore anything clingy because of my ‘football’ belly. I always had to buy a size larger to compensate for it.
I had to do something so, I decided to try fasting. I fasted about once a week, for 18-24 hours, for a few months. Quite early on, I noticed the symptoms reduced dramatically. (Please don’t do if you’re uncomfortable about this. I don’t do this now but at the time, I was getting frustrated.)
Eventually, by trial and error, I found the food culprits which triggers MY symptoms. This took some time. I missed out the offending food in one meal. Noted how I felt. Then, I ate it the next meal and noticed the difference.
The following are foods that I have either eliminated or have occasionally:
- Cows milk and related products.
- Chocolate, (Yes. I’m heartbroken. However, for some reason, I’m ok with chocolate flavoured foods).
- Hot chillies.
- Raw olive oil.
- Baked beans.
I eat or drink as substitutes:-
- Any dairy-free milk, yoghurts, butter.
- I use leeks instead of onions.
- No more than 2 cups of coffee a day.
- I eat potatoes no more than twice a week.
- I avoid using really hot chillies in my cooking. Paprika is a tasty substitute if you don’t like chilli.
Everyone will have tolerances or intolerances of different foods. You may be intolerant of wheat, for example. All I can say is, to consider keeping a food diary, as mentioned earlier. It will take time to identify the culprits but it’s worth it to regain your enjoyment of eating.
Finally, I find exercise like running definitely helps.
So, if you regularly suffer from stomach upsets and assuming you’ve been to see your doctor, (I strongly recommend you do), then:
- Keep a food diary to identify the triggers.
- Be aware of the common food and drink intolerances, as described above.
- Exercise. Your guts love a good jiggle!
- Do regularly, whatever helps you to relieve your stress. Unless you don’t have any stress in your life…. Lucky you!
Sources: Gutscharity.org.uk Awarenessdays.com
Medicalnewstoday.com Nursingcenter.com Health.usnews.com Thelancet.com
This article was originally published in August 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.