Things you didn’t know about irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS as it is more often referred to is a very common condition that affects the digestive system. Although there are different severities of the condition, it can be incredibly distressing for the patient and can cause symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.
The symptoms are not present at all times, in fact, they tend to come and go over time, but attacks can last for days, weeks or even months at a time. Unfortunately as well, it is usually a lifelong condition, which can have a massive impact on your life, which can even mean that you cannot live a normal everyday life, particularly if you are suffering with severe symptoms from the condition.
Although there is no exact cure for the condition, there are ways in which you can make it more manageable and easier to live with. Diet changes and medicine – both prescribed and over the counter ones can help to keep the symptoms at bay.
There is no exact cause for the condition, at least it hasn’t been discovered yet, but it has been linked to things like food passing through your gut too quickly or too slowly, oversensitive nerves in your gut, stress, and a family history of the condition.
Symptoms of IBS can vary from person to person and it can be difficult to know when you should be visiting your doctor to get the help you need. The first step is knowing what to look out for. The main symptoms of the conditions are; stomach cramps, or pain, which is usually worse after eating, and disappear after you have been to the toilet; bloating, where your stomach feels incredibly uncomfortably full and even swollen; diarrhoea, which can come on very suddenly; and constipation, where you might strain a lot and never feel like your bowels are completely empty. You might notice these symptoms typically worsen after you have eaten certain foods, and it is important that you begin to notice these triggers and tell the doctor what you have noticed.
Other symptoms can include; flatulence, passing mucus from your bottom, tiredness and a lack of energy, nausea, backache, problems peeing – like needing to go more often, sudden urges to go, and feeling like you cannot fully empty your bladder and incontinence. Your GP will be able to run tests and rule out the possibility of IBS; however these symptoms should not be ignored; particularly if you have lost a lot of weight for no explained reason, you have bleeding from your bottom or bloody diarrhoea, a hard lump or swelling in your tummy, or a shortness of breath, noticeable heartbeats or palpitations, and pale skin as these can be a sign of something more serious.
Despite it being such a common condition, there are some things about the condition that remain fairly unknown.
It is a major inconvenience and can really impact on your life
A survey has shown that nearly half of IBS sufferers have openly said that they would give up their mobile phones, the internet or sex for a month in order to have a month that was free from all symptoms of IBS, which shows how much of an inconvenience that it really is.
The trouble with IBS is that people often dumb down the condition and liken it to a bit of mild bloating after a big meal, when actually living with the condition can be so much more than this. The results of this survey actually shocked the researchers, as they were also unaware that the condition had some an impact on sufferer’s lives.
Then research also revealed that those living with the condition on average miss two work days a month due to their symptoms. That’s twenty-four sick days from work every year, or nearly five working weeks. This shows that diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome is so much more than a little pain, and cramping after a heavy meal.
There isn’t just one form of IBS
IBS is a confusing condition. It isn’t just those who don’t suffer from the condition that are confused by it, those that have been diagnosed aren’t all too sure of it, and even the doctors struggle to diagnose because it presents itself in so many different ways.
What has been discovered though is that there are three different types of IBS. The types reflect the main symptoms that the patients suffer. IBS-C has been named this because patients tend to notice constipation being their most common and perhaps severe symptom. IBS-D tends to show frequent bowel movement and diarrhoea as the main symptoms, although when questioned, patients that suffer from this form of IBS say that abdominal pain is their most common symptom. Finally, there are the very unlucky patients who have both diarrhoea and constipation in equal measures.
Research has suggested that the number of patients suffering from each form of IBS is equal, suggesting that one is not more prevalent than others.
People tend to wait too long before going to the doctors
The reason for this is unclear. It might be because people feel embarrassed about discussing their symptoms, or maybe they wait in case it was just a few days of discomfort. Maybe you could blame it what you had for dinner.
The truth is though, that three-quarters of IBS sufferers wait to see a doctor until they have had their symptoms for than a year, and have well and truly settled in. The same survey touched on this with one researcher saying that people are more inclined to try to self-help before going to see a professional, saying;
“People try OTC (Over The Counter) medications first, which aren’t very effective.”
The good news is that your condition is unlikely to worsen by leaving it undiagnosed, but it does mean that you are delaying relief, that the doctor might be able to give you. So, if you have a number of the symptoms, it is advisable to go and see your doctor, regardless of how embarrassed you feel.
Your diet and lifestyle really can make all the difference
Making the right diet and lifestyle choices really are one of the most effective ways of controlling your symptoms. There is no single diet or lifestyle change that will work for everyone, but generally following a healthy diet and lifestyle can help considerably.
Avoid skipping or delaying meals too much, and try not to eat too quickly as this can exacerbate symptoms. Pick your foods wisely as well and avoid fatty, processed and spicy foods, and don’t eat too much fresh fruit. Limit yourself to no more than three portions. There are certain drinks that can make it worse as well, so try not to drink more than 3 cups of tea or coffee each day, and be sensible when it comes to alcohol and fizzy drinks.
Instead, try to make home cooked foods where you can, using the freshest ingredients, and keep a diary of what you have eaten when you have a flare up to see if there is any correlation between certain foods and your symptoms. Try and relax where possible, as we have previously noted that your symptoms worsen in times of stress. Try and get plenty of exercise in as well. You can even try taking probiotics for a month to see if they help to ease your symptoms.
If you suffer from the type of IBS where bloating and cramps are more significant symptoms, there are certain foods that you can try eating more of. Porridge oats and 1 tablespoon of linseeds each day can really help to ease cramps and all the unpleasant symptoms that come along with it. You should be avoiding foods that are hard to digest – cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, beans, onions and dried fruits are all examples of these, and avoid products that contain sorbitol, an artificial sweetener.
If instead, you suffer from diarrhoea, you should avoid high-fibre foods, like whole grain foods, nuts and seeds, and also sorbitol again. Certain over the counter medications can help keep this under control as well. It is so important that you make sure you stay hydrated during flare-ups, by drinking lots of water.
If constipation is getting you down, there are again, several things that you can do that will help to relieve these symptoms. Start by drinking plenty of water, and try and increase the amount of soluble fibre in your diet. Add oats, pulses, carrots, peeled potatoes and linseeds to your diet. Again, there are certain medications that can help to relieve symptoms.
It is different from Colitis and Crohns
All too often, IBS gets confused with Crohns and Colitis, and whilst they are all diseases that affect the digestive system, they are not the same at all. Crohn’s and Colitis are forms of inflammatory bowel disease, and can actually eventually lead to intestinal damage.
The reason that they often get confused is that the latter problems frequently get misdiagnosed as IBS, to begin with as the symptoms can be similar. IBS can also be caused by some more serious conditions, as well, so it is always important to visit the doctor as soon as you notice any changes in your digestive system health.
It is more common in women
According to the Mayo Clinic, women are actually more likely to have IBS than men. This has lead researchers to believe that there might be a link between hormones and the condition.
Women have also reported that their symptoms are worse around the time of their periods and menstruation, which again could very much indicate that hormones are involved and can play a part in the cause, although it should be noted that this is still unknown.
This is why it is really important to keep a diary and write down when your symptoms are worse, so you can try and find a link. It can also really help your treatment plan and help to get you the relief you need quickly.