27 April 2017
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is thought to affect as many as one in five people in the UK, leaving them struggling with symptoms including stomach cramps, bloating and a myriad of digestive issues.
However it is often still misdiagnosed as symptoms are similar to a number of other health complaints, including more serious issues such as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis.
April is International IBS Awareness Month and Consultant General and Colorectal Surgeon Mr Gary Atkin answers a few often-asked questions.
What is IBS?
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms vary between individuals and affect some people more severely than others. They tend to come and go in periods lasting a few days to a few months at a time, often during times of stress or after eating certain foods.
The main symptoms are alternating constipation and diarrhoea (although some individuals may have a predominance of either), abdominal pain or discomfort, and bloating.
It usually first develops when a person is between 20 and 30 years of age and is thought to affect around one in five people at some time in their lives.
Are there any foods I can eat to prevent IBS?
Basically sticking to a healthy diet should help you avoid IBS, which includes eating fresh fruit and vegetables and cutting down on processed food. Stopping smoking and cutting down on alcohol are two immediate steps sufferers can take which usually improves their situation.
Should I take medication?
What you should do is visit your GP. They will take a history (document your symptoms) and examine you to make sure you are suffering from IBS and not something more ‘sinister’!
Once they have carried out an examination they will be in a position to decide whether medication or simply a change of diet and lifestyle would be the best pathway for you to take – it may well be a mixture of both!
Will exercise ease my IBS or make it worse?
In general terms keeping fit should have a beneficial effect on your symptoms. Those with IBS are often less active than those without and increasing activity has been shown to help symptoms in some cases.
Exercise also helps manage stress and stress can be a significant precipitating factor in worsening IBS symptoms it will also help keep your weight under control which, in turn, should ease symptoms.
Is it a curable?
IBS is a disturbance in the function of the bowel rather than there being a structural defect and symptoms often come and go over many years. Generally symptoms improve as individuals get older, but there is no ‘cure’ as such.
The key to management is symptom control and symptoms are often improved by healthy eating, increasing activity and keeping weight under control. Stopping smoking and cutting down alcohol intake are two immediate things sufferers can do to improve symptoms.