Irritable bowel syndrome (ibs) is a common gut disorder. The cause is not known. Symptoms can be quite variable and include tummy (abdominal) pain, bloating, and sometimes bouts of diarrhoea and/or constipation. Symptoms tend to come and go. There is no cure for ibs, but symptoms can often be eased and prevent with homeopathic treatment.
What is irritable bowel syndrome (ibs) and who gets it?
ibs is a common functional disorder of the gut. A functional disorder means there is a problem with the function of a part of the body, but there is no abnormality in the structure. So, in ibs, the function of the gut is upset, but all parts of the gut look normal, even when looked at under a microscope
what are the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (ibs)?
pain and discomfort may occur in different parts of the tummy (abdomen). Pain usually comes and goes. The length of each bout of pain can vary greatly. The pain often eases when you pass stools (faeces) or wind. Many people with ibs describe the pain as a spasm or colic. The severity of the pain can vary from mild to severe, both from person to person, and from time to time in the same person.
Bloating and swelling of your abdomen may develop from time to time. You may pass more wind than usual.
Changes in stools:
some people have bouts of diarrhoea, and some have bouts of constipation.
Some people have bouts of diarrhoea that alternate with bouts of constipation.
Sometimes the stools become small and pellet-like. Sometimes the stools become watery or more loose. At times, mucus may be mixed with the stools.
There may have a feeling of not emptying the back passage (rectum) after going to the toilet.
Some people have urgency, which means they have to get to the toilet quickly. A morning rush is common. That is, they feel an urgent need to go to the toilet several times shortly after getting up. This is often during and after breakfast.
Other symptoms which sometimes occur - include:
feeling sick (nausea).
Feeling quickly full after eating.
Bladder symptoms (an associated irritable bladder).
Some people have occasional mild symptoms. Others have unpleasant symptoms for long periods. Many people fall somewhere in between, with flare-ups of symptoms from time to time. Some doctors group people with ibs into one of three categories:
those with abdominal pain or discomfort, and the other symptoms are mainly bloating and constipation.
Those with abdominal pain or discomfort, and the other symptoms are mainly urgency to get to the toilet, and diarrhoea.
Those who alternate between constipation and diarrhoea.
However, in practice, many people will not fall neatly into any one category, and considerable overlap occurs.
Note: passing blood is not a symptom of ibs. You should tell a doctor if you pass blood.
Do I need any tests for irritable bowel syndrome (ibs)?
there is no test that confirms the diagnosis of ibs. A doctor can usually diagnose ibs from the typical symptoms.
However, a blood sample or stool (faeces) test is commonly taken to do some tests to help rule out other conditions such as crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, coeliac disease, cancer of the ovary, gut infections, etc. The symptoms of these other diseases can sometimes be confused with ibs. Tests done commonly include:
full blood count (fbc) - to rule out lack of iron in the blood (anaemia), which is associated with various gut disorders.
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (esr) or c-reactive protein (crp) - which can show if there is inflammation in the body (which does not occur with ibs).
A blood test for coeliac disease.
In women, a blood test to rule out cancer of the ovary, called ca 125.
A stool test to look for a protein called faecal calprotectin. This may be present if you have crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, but is not present in ibs.
More complicated tests such as gastroscopy (a look into the bowel with a special telescope) are not usually needed. However, they may be done if symptoms are not typical, or if you develop symptoms of ibs in later life (over the age of about 50) when other conditions need to be ruled out.
What causes irritable bowel syndrome (ibs)?
the cause is not clear. It may have something to do with overactivity of part or parts of the gut. What are the treatments for irritable bowel syndrome (ibs)?
many people are reassured that their condition is ibs, and not something more serious such as colitis. Simply understanding about ibs may help you to be less anxious about the condition, which may ease the severity of symptoms. Symptoms often settle for long periods without any treatment. In some cases, symptoms are mild and do not require treatment.
There are many different treatments that may be tried for ibs. All will have an effect on some people, but none will help in every person with ibs. No treatment is likely to take away symptoms completely, but treatment can often ease symptoms and improve your quality of life.
If symptoms are more troublesome or frequent, one or more of the following treatment options may be advised:
treatment option 1: lifestyle changes
exercise. Regular exercise is known to help to ease symptoms.
Managing stress levels. Stress and other emotional factors may trigger symptoms in some people. So, anything that can reduce your level of stress or emotional upset may help.
Keeping a symptom diary. - it may help to keep a food and lifestyle diary for 2-4 weeks to monitor symptoms and activities. Note everything that you eat and drink, times that you were stressed, and when you took any formal exercise. This may identify triggers, such as a food, alcohol, or emotional stresses, and may show if exercise helps to ease or to prevent symptoms. If you are advised to try a particular treatment, it may be sensible to keep a symptom diary before and after the start of the treatment. For example, before changing the amount of fibre that you eat, or taking a probiotic (explained later), or starting medication. You may wish to jot down in the diary the type and severity of symptoms that you have each day for a week or so. Keep the diary going after you start treatment. You can then assess whether a treatment has improved your symptoms or not.
Treatment option 2: dietary changes
a healthy diet is important for all of us. However, some people with irritable bowel syndrome (ibs) find certain foods of a normal healthy diet can trigger symptoms or make symptoms worse.
General dietary advice for ibs- -have regular meals and take time to eat at a leisurely pace.
-avoid missing meals or leaving long gaps between eating.
-drink at least eight cups of fluid per day, especially water or other non-caffeinated drinks. This helps to -keep the stools (faeces) soft and easy to pass along the gut.
-restrict tea and coffee to three cups per day (as caffeine may be a factor in some people).
-restrict the amount of fizzy drinks that you have to a minimum.
-don't drink too much alcohol. (some people report an improvement in symptoms when they cut down from drinking a lot of alcohol.)
-consider limiting intake of high-fibre food (but see the section above where an increase may help in some cases).
-limit fresh fruit to three portions (of 80 g each) per day.
if you have diarrhoea, avoid sorbitol, an artificial sweetener found in sugar-free sweets (including chewing gum) and in drinks, and in some diabetic and slimming products.
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