Did you know IBS affects one in 20 of people in the UK? IBS isn’t just an ‘upset tummy’, it’s a disorder in your gut-brain interaction where it is thought that they overcommunicate. If you are not directly affected by it, then it’s possible that you will have family members or friends that are. Read on to learn more about this invisible illness and understand why it can be such a debilitating disorder for people:
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
IBS is probably the most common disorder diagnosed in a gastroenterology clinic. It's defined as more than six months of variable abdominal discomfort, often with bloating and a change in your bowel habits.
The most common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are:
- Stomach pains or cramps – usually worse after eating or better after you’ve been to the toilet
- Bloating – your tummy may feel uncomfortably full and swollen
- Diarrhoea – you may have watery poo or sometimes need to poo suddenly
- Constipation - you may strain when pooing and feel like you cannot empty your bowels fully
There may be days when your symptoms are better and days when they’re worse (these are known as flare-ups). There are certain triggers that can cause IBS flare-ups for example, stress and anxiety about life situations, particular foods and drinks such as caffeine and dairy products.
What causes IBS?
There is no answer as to what causes IBS. Some people develop IBS after an episode of food poisoning or infective diarrhoea (e.g. Campylobacter) suggesting that a change in the gut bacteria (microbiome) may be important. In others, certain food items, such as wheat, dairy, or sugars, may worsen symptoms.
In others, stress, anxiety, or worry may worsen IBS, suggesting that the nerve endings in the gut are involved - the so-called Brain-Gut Axis.
What can trigger IBS symptoms?
IBS flare ups can happen for no obvious reasons, but sometimes they can have a trigger:
- Certain foods such as spicy or fatty food
- Stress and anxiety
People with IBS are twice as likely to take sick leave from work and many report a reduction in their levels of confidence, enjoyment of life and some people are even housebound due to their symptoms and the anxiety this can cause.
How is IBS diagnosed?
IBS is usually diagnosed according to strict national and international guidelines. It's essential that a thorough medical and social history is taken to check that the patient's symptoms fit with the diagnosis. Symptoms suggestive of an inflammatory process or a strong family history of bowel cancer need to be considered carefully.
Following a physical examination, a blood test is required to check for anaemia (thin blood), inflammation or coeliac disease. In individuals with diarrhoea, a stool specimen to measure calprotectin is required. This result must be negative to support a diagnosis of IBS; if raised further investigations, such as a colonoscopy will be needed.
Can IBS be treated?
How looking at your diet can help
Your GP or healthcare professional may refer you to a Dietitian if you’ve tried to avoid trigger foods but haven’t seen a reduction in your symptoms.
Your Dietician may recommend you follow a Low FODMAP diet. This means that you’ll avoid foods that are not easily broken down in your gut. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, which are types of carbohydrate that can resist digestion.
Eating a diet low in these carbohydrates means that you’ll avoid foods that are not easily broken down in your gut, such as certain fruits and vegetables, milk and wheat products.
If pharmacy medicines are not helping your symptoms, your GP may also prescribe you antidepressants, such as:
If you have had IBS for a long time and you think a big trigger may be stress and anxiety, your GP may refer you for a talking therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This can help to not only reduce your symptoms but help you to manage future IBS flare-ups.
If you need further support or want to join an IBS network to connect with people who have the same condition, visit Guts Charity.
Diagnosis and treatment at Benenden Hospital
Our highly experienced Gastroenterology Consultants can assess and diagnose any gastroenterology issues you may have and carry out procedures at our nationally accredited (JAG accreditation) Endoscopy Unit. Our Registered Nutritional Therapist and Dietician offer our private nutritional therapy service which offers a personalised approach to nutrition, supporting you to adapt what you eat and drink in order to help you achieve your health and wellbeing goals, including the reduction in your IBS symptoms.
Find out more about our private gastroenterology procedures by completing our online enquiry form or by contacting our Private Patient team via Livechat or on 01580 363 158.
Published on 06 April 2022