04 April 2014
With April being International Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month, consultant gastroenterologist Dr Stephen Grainger speaks on how new tests and treatments propel Irritable Bowel Syndrome out of the shadows.
Everyone has suffered a bout of gastroenteritis at some time, either after eating bad food or being in contact with a GI infection. Once the worst of the abdominal pain and bowel upset is over many people are left with an uneasy stomach for a few days. Imagine that unease – pain, bloating, erratic bowels – lasting for months and you can begin to see what people with irritable bowel syndrome have to cope with. Not everyone with irritable bowel has suffered a passing GI infection as the trigger for their condition and in most people the underlying cause is unknown.
Theories abound about the cause of the problem. Altered bacteria in the intestine, sensitivity to individual foods or food groups, altered activity of the nerves within the wall of the intestine or in the brain areas receiving impulses from the gut are all possibilities, but science has not been able to show convincingly where the problem truly lies – indeed it is likely to be different in different sufferers.
Symptoms are long lasting for many people, upsetting work, travel and enjoyment of life. For an unfortunate few, abdominal pain, bloating or disturbed bowels is so intrusive that many activities are just not possible. Although Crohn’s disease and coeliac disease can cause similar symptoms, irritable bowel syndrome is not due to inflammation of the intestine as in Crohn’s or damage to the intestine as in coeliac disease.
Straightforward blood and stool tests can usually distinguish between these conditions, but sometimes endoscopy (passing a tube into the intestine to see and take samples of the lining) is needed. Fortunately, in the last couple of years there have been advances in understanding irritable bowel, its dietary management and its treatment. So, if you have been suffering in silence for too long, now is a good time to see your doctor.