Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition affecting the gut. Sufferers experience cramping, bloating and pain. Some people with IBS have diarrhoea, some constipation, while others alternate between the two. The condition is common. The *IBS Network says between 10-20% of people living in western countries will have IBS at any one time.
- Abdominal cramps, bloating & pain
- Diarrhoea, constipation or both
- Excessive wind & urgent need for the toilet
- Urge to go to the loo even after emptying your bowels
- Passing mucus when you go to the toilet
- Depression and anxiety due to discomfort of IBS
What causes IBS?
The exact cause of IBS is unknown and the condition is not linked to structural damage in the bowel. Most experts believe it relates to changes in how the digestive system works and by increased sensitivity in the gut. It's thought psychological factors can trigger IBS or it can occur after an episode of food poisoning.
When working normally, the body contracts and releases the muscles of the intestines to squeeze food through the system. But with IBS this process get disrupted. Food either moves too fast - leading to diarrhoea - or too slowly resulting in constipation.
It's also thought the condition relates to oversensitivity of the nerve signals that relay messages between the brain and the gut. This means that mild indigestion may be experienced as pain in people with IBS. Stress and some foods prompt an increase in a chemical called 5-hydroxytryptamine which may be linked to IBS.
How is IBS treated?
Diarrhoea can be treated with antidiarrhoeal medicines which slow contractions in the gut so more water can be absorbed making stools (poo) less runny. Constipation can be treated with laxatives to increase bowel movements or soften stools. Spasms and pain are relieved with antispasmodic agents. A pharmacist can advise on the best treatments. Most are available without prescription.
If antispasmodic medicines fail to control cramping and pain, a form of antidepressant - tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) - may be prescribed to relax your digestive muscles.
Antidepressants may also be prescribed if the IBS is linked to depression or anxiety.
Psychotherapy can also prove helpful.
Alternative Remedies & Self-help
- A well-balanced diet, regular meals and regular exercise are all known to reduce IBS symptoms.
- Probiotics used as a dietary supplement may also help - these promote 'friendly bacteria' in the gut.
- Hypnotherapy has been shown to help some people with IBS cope with discomfort.
- Acupuncture and reflexology are also sometimes used - although there scant evidence to prove their effectiveness in treating IBS.