Let’s make things simple…
-By Dr Marlise De Jager
What is it?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional gastrointestinal disorder that is characterised by chronic abdominal pain and a change in bowel habits (either constipation and/or diarrhoea).
What causes IBS?
There are many theories about how and why IBS may develop.
- Abnormal contractions of the colon and intestines (“Spastic colon”)
- The brain gut connection
– Stress and anxiety can affect the intestine. There are millions of nerve cells in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract which control digestion and tell the bowel when to contract, move and secrete fluids. A stress response in the gut can make symptoms more frequent and severe.
– Increased sensitivity of the intestines is when the nerves in the intestines are overactive.
- Imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut
– Some people develop IBS after a severe viral -or bacterial gastrointestinal infection.
– Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine that causes bloating, stomach pain and/or excessive gas.
- It is possible that IBS is caused by food intolerances. The best way to find associations between symptoms of IBS and food sensitivities -or allergies, is to exclude certain food groups (follow an “elimination diet”). Speak to your doctor or nutritionist before excluding food groups.
Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms
Not all IBS look the same and symptoms may vary. Speak to your doctor if you have any change in bowel habits. These may include abdominal pain, diarrhoea and/or constipation, or bloating, increased gas and belching. Seek help if your stress and anxiety cause abdominal symptoms or physical pain.
How is IBS diagnosed?
There is no single test to diagnose IBS. Your doctor will look at your symptoms, medical history, physical examination, and may do blood tests. Selected blood tests will rule out deficiencies and distinguish IBS from other gastrointestinal disorders that have similar symptoms to IBS. Referral to a specialist may be needed in severe cases.
How is IBS treated?
IBS varies from person to person, so there are many different treatments and therapies. It may be necessary to try more than one combination of treatments to find what works best for you. Treating IBS can take time. It is important to communicate with your doctor about symptoms, concerns, stressors or other problems that develop during this process.
Tips before consulting with your doctor:
Monitor symptoms – Pay attention to anything that may influence your gut and worsen symptoms (such as food intolerances and stress). Keep a food diary.
Diet changes – Try to eliminate foods that worsen IBS symptoms. Always communicate with your doctor or nutritionist before eliminating foods to avoid worsened symptoms or new problems.
Increasing dietary fibre – Increasing dietary fibre may relieve IBS symptoms, especially if you have constipation. You can either add certain foods to your diet or use fibre supplements.
Reduce stress and anxiety – Counselling or participation in a support group may be very helpful.
Exercise – Many studies have shown that physical activity improves IBS symptoms. Exercise also improves quality of life, fatigue, depression and anxiety.
Medication – There are many drugs available to treat the symptoms of IBS. Speak to your doctor to determine the best treatment for your unique situation.
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