What is it?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a functional gut disorder and affects around one in ten individuals at some point in their lives, according to the BBC. Patient UK states that prevalence could even be as high as one in five. The condition is said to be most common between the ages of 25 and 45 and is more likely to occur in women than men. It brings on a host of symptoms, which make life very difficult for the sufferer.
What are these symptoms?
IBS symptoms are mostly physiological, but can also have a great effect on the patient’s state of mind, causing increased amounts of stress, exhaustion and even depression.
Common physical symptoms include:
- Bouts of diarrhoea and/ or constipation
- Pain and discomfort in the abdominal region, often in the form of spasms, accompanied by a sense of relief once stools or wind have been passed.
- Bloating and swelling, usually caused by trapped wind
Other symptoms associated with IBS include:
- Head and back pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Urinary and gynaecological problems
- Poor appetite
- Muscle aches
The BBC emphasises that IBS is not linked to bowel cancer or any other life-threatening illnesses. It is advisable to seek the advice of a doctor for a correct diagnosis.
What causes it?
The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but it is generally agreed that those who suffer from the condition have a super sensitive colon. This is supported by the fact that some individuals develop IBS following food poisoning or a gut infection, the BBC points out.
Food is passed along the gut through a series of contractions. Ordinarily, these contractions would go unnoticed. In IBS sufferers, bowel spasms when digesting food are much more powerful, causing pain and discomfort.
It is also believed that an overactive nervous system connected to the gut is sometimes to blame. In times of heightened stress or anxiety, the brain can send off excessive signals to the bowel, causing unhealthy activity, according to Patient UK. This is supported by patients’ claims that symptoms worsen during times of emotional stress.
How is it treated?
There is no known cure for IBS, although certain lifestyle and dietary changes are known to alleviate symptoms.
- Making a food diary will highlight when attacks occur and help the sufferer pin point potential catalysts
- Drinking plenty of fluids and eating smaller meals at frequent and regular intervals will aid digestion
- Eating foods high in fibre, such as cereals, nuts, fruit and vegetables, is proven to reduce symptoms
- Trying to address any issues of anxiety, stress and depression
- There are countless drugs available to ease symptoms such as diarrhoea and constipation, as well as providing pain relief and helping gut muscles relax
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