Sydney GP: The ins and outs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Many people have heard of IBS (or irritable Bowel Syndrome) in some way or another, and as such, we at Sydney GP feel it’s important to offer some insight and just what it means to have such an unpleasant condition. IBS is a common, chronic gastrointestinal disorder that primarily affects the complex system of both your small and large intestines, resulting in a long list of abdominal and stomach discomfort. The exact cause of IBS, however, according to medical literature, is officially listed as ‘unknown’. Health experts believe that a breakdown in communication between the brain and the intestinal tract is one cause, but again, this isn’t considered as scripture. IBS can develop in people of all ages, but according to the available data, it’s more likely to occur during the period between adolescence and middle age. It occurs more often in women than in men, and considering an official IBS diagnosis normally means a chronic condition (meaning it is unlikely to ever completely subside), a long-term and well-informed management plan is critical in minimising its daily effects.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

We know being told that you may suffer from IBS for the rest of your life can be a tough pill to swallow, but that’s what IBS unfortunately entails for the large majority of people who have been diagnosed. But there is hope. With advancements in the field of holistic and integrative medicine catching up to more traditional treatment, we have seen a wide range of alternative and supplementary treatment plans, innovative and helpful approaches, and healthier daily management plans for IBS.

So, let’s dig a little deeper.

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF IBS?

As we’ve already touched on, IBS is quite an unpleasant condition that affects everything to do with your gut health and digestive function. It can be quite the distraction or even render you useless for the day, depending on flare-ups and how severe your IBS actually is. The following then, is the more common symptoms, but again, they can vary from person to person, and range in intensity and frequency.

  •       Abdominal pain
  •       Bloating, painful, or frequent gas
  •       Nausea, either infrequently or for long periods
  •       Diarrhea
  •       Constipation

As you can see, IBS certainly has a few tools in which to utilise and make its victim rather miserable. While many of us take our health for granted, IBS sufferers can often face the day while needing to run to the toilet more than usual, or putting on a brave face while experiencing gas and abdominal pain. Encouragingly though, and despite all the doom and gloom, IBS can be mild and managed, in which the IBS sufferer can live a long, mostly unhindered life without really showing signs of their condition. But it can also be moderate and even severe, two words we’re sure, no IBS sufferer wants to ever see. The official breakdown of those numbers is fairly solid, as a recent study found that amongst IBS sufferers, 40% were in the mild range when it comes to IBS symptoms, 35% in moderate, and 25% severe.

I’m sure you can agree that seeing the larger number residing comfortably in the ‘mild’ category certainly offers some relief and hope.

Like we said, some symptoms of IBS can be controlled by managing your diet, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and reducing stress. It’s encouraging to see, in fact, that with a few decisions and healthy habits, IBS can be mostly controlled, if of course, you are in the mild or moderate category. Obviously, and for certain cases in which your IBS is just too damaging or severe, medication and counselling can be offered as a last resort. It is important to note, and like many other conditions, that IBS affects everyone differently. That can also depend on when certain foods are consumed, and how they irritate your IBS.

Getting to know your irritable bowels: The DIFFERENT TYPES OF IBS

While IBS is a nasty little acronym that most people are aware of, the variations of the condition may not be so familiar. IBS-D, for example, is irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea as a defining feature. Yes. Unpleasant is an understatement. The symptoms most prominent with IBS-D include sudden bowel movements, abdominal pain and obvious discomfort. Intestinal gas, nausea, loose stools, frequent stools, and the feeling of being unable to completely empty the bowels are the main culprits for this type of variation.

IBS-C, is irritable bowel syndrome with, yep, you guessed it…constipation as an unwanted by-product. The symptoms of IBS-C are similar to IBS-D (abdominal pain, straining, infrequent stools, bloating and/or gas) but also cause the sufferer to feel constipated for long periods of time. Hard or lumpy stools can also feature, making trips to the bathroom really uncomfortable.

The most frustrating thing about IBS perhaps, is the fact that despite the chaos (at times) of which the condition can cause, physically, there are actually no structural problems in the intestines. Furthermore, medical testing and screening (such as stool tests, or endoscopic procedures such as a colonoscopy) usually come back relatively clear, so it is no wonder that IBS sufferers can feel emotional or even depressed at times. The pain, discomfort and bloating that are associated with IBS, can cause a significant disruption in daily life, and thus, while using a holistic approach, each case should be managed on a personal level.

WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS FOR IBS?

We all want relief. Whether it’s working all the time, a migraine that won’t go away, or the effects of IBS, the word ‘respite’ is certainly a welcomed one. Although there is currently no known official cure for IBS, like we have said, symptoms can often be managed by implementing a healthy and positive change in diet, an active lifestyle, and acquiring as much knowledge as you can on the the nature of your IBS. Below are also a few other options, as they have proven to lessen the effects of IBS as well.

Probiotics

These dietary supplements promote stronger digestive health, and are marketed as such. They contain “good bacteria” that can help restore the natural balance of gut bacteria due to IBS or other health issues. Some people take probiotics regularly to help them relieve the symptoms of IBS, and although the effectiveness is up for debate, it has provided relief for some sufferers.

Home Remedies

Home remedies for IBS, as part of a more holistic approach, include avoiding certain problematic foods that can trigger or worsen your symptoms. These notoriously have been coffee or caffeine, chocolate and nuts. Avoiding heavy, high-calorie meals or high fat foods that over-stimulate the gut and leave you feeling uncomfortably full is also a smart idea.

Medications 

While we here at Sydney GP will always suggest medication as a last resort, especially if you have tried natural alternatives, there are some medications out there than can help with more severe cases of IBS. They are anti-spasmodic medicines, anti-diarrheal medicines, anti-depressants, and even laxatives.