10 April 2018
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition of the digestive system that affects up to a fifth of people in the UK. According to the IBS Network, as many as 10 to 20 per cent of people in the UK have IBS at any one time.
This condition involves changes in frequency or form of bowel movements and lower abdominal pain. Diet, stress, poor sleep and changes in gut bacteria may all trigger symptoms, although triggers are different for each person, making it difficult to name specific foods that IBS sufferers should avoid.
The main symptoms of IBS are:
1. Pain and Cramping
Normally, your gut and brain work together to control digestion. This happens via hormones, nerves and signals released by the good bacteria that live in your gut. With IBS, these signals become distorted, leading to uncoordinated and painful tension in the muscles of the digestive tract.
Diarrhoea affects roughly one-third of patients with IBS. IBS sufferers can have, on average, 12 bowel movements weekly — more than twice the typical amount of an average adult. Accelerated bowel transit in IBS can also result in a sudden, immediate urge to have a bowel movement. Stools tend to be loose and watery and may contain mucus.
Constipation-predominant IBS is the most common type, affecting nearly 50% of people with IBS. Altered communication between the brain and bowel can speed up or slow down the normal transit time of stool. When transit time slows, the bowel absorbs more water from stool, and it becomes more difficult to pass.
4. Alternating constipation and diarrhoea
Mixed or alternating constipation and diarrhoea affects about 20% of patients with IBS and typically involves chronic, recurring abdominal pain.
5. Gas and bloating
Altered digestion in IBS leads to more gas production in the gut. This can cause discomfort and bloating.
6. Food intolerance
70% of individuals with IBS state that certain foods trigger symptoms. Why particular foods trigger symptoms is unclear. Every sufferer is different and will each have different foods that can trigger an episode
7. Fatigue and difficulty sleeping
IBS is also related to insomnia, which includes difficulty falling asleep, waking frequently and feeling unrested in the morning. Fatigue and poor sleep quality are also related to more severe gastrointestinal symptoms the following day.
8. Anxiety and depression
IBS can produce a vicious cycle of digestive symptoms that increase anxiety and anxiety that increases digestive symptoms.
What to do if you think you have IBS
If you have symptoms of IBS, visit your GP, who can help diagnose IBS and rule out any other illnesses.
Your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist, a specialist in digestive diseases, who can help you identify triggers and discuss ways to control your symptoms.
Lifestyle changes, such as diet, stress relief, exercise, drinking plenty of water and over-the-counter laxatives can also help. Additionally, avoiding digestive stimulants, such as caffeine, alcohol and sugary beverages, can reduce symptoms for some sufferers.
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