01 April 2019
When – back in April 1997 – it was decided to have a special awareness month to highlight the problems of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), the first campaign slogan was ‘Don’t Suffer in Silence’.
Unfortunately, according to Consultant Gastroenterologist Dr Mark Cox, more than 20 years later, people are still keeping the problem to themselves as they are embarrassed to discuss symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation, or excessive wind - even with their GP.
“The worry is that what a person thinks is IBS, and refers to as a ‘dodgy tummy’ could be masking a much more serious condition,” said Dr Cox, who practices at Spire Parkway Hospital in Solihull, near Birmingham West Midlands.
“IBS symptoms can be very similar to more serious conditions such as Crohn's, ulcerative colitis or, in some worst case scenarios, bowel or stomach cancer.
“That is one reason why suffering in silence is not an option. If you have had IBS symptoms for more than three weeks you need to see your GP. They will study your medical history and may also refer you to a gastroenterologist for further investigations which will hopefully rule out more ‘sinister’ conditions.”
If it is established that IBS is the problem then there are medications which, along with lifestyle changes, can help ease and control the symptoms.
Stopping smoking is a must and cutting down or giving up alcohol will almost certainly make a difference, but diet is also very important - eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables while avoiding processed foods can result in big improvements for most sufferers.
IBS 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. It is a disturbance in the function of the bowel rather than a structural defect and symptoms often come and go over many years, generally improving as individuals get older.
“However,” explained Dr Cox, “there is no actual cure so making healthy improvements to their lives is very much in the hands of the sufferers.
“I hope that awareness month allows people to bring their problems into the open. Once they come to terms with IBS they can then start to make positive moves towards controlling their symptoms and improving their quality of life.”
Q: How quickly could I have a consultation, and how much would it cost?
A: It depends on the availability of the consultant you wanted to see, but we pride ourselves on getting you fast access to diagnosis and you can often get a consultation within 24/48 hours. Initial consultation fees vary by consultant, but around £175 is a reasonable guide.
Q: If I need surgery, how quickly could I have it?
A: We have no waiting lists at Spire Parkway, but again, it depends on the availability of the consultant you wanted, but as a guide, and subject to your pre-operation assessment, between one and two weeks.
Q: I don’t have health insurance, can I self-pay?