Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is a long-term condition affecting the digestive system. It causes an array of embarrassing and debilitating symptoms including stomach pain, constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and flatulence.
IBS is a relatively common condition, thought to affect up to one in five people. Although anyone can have IBS, it most commonly develops in early adulthood and affects more women than men throughout their lives.
Unfortunately, there are no specific tests to determine whether or not you have IBS. On examination, no physical abnormalities can be found in IBS, the structural and biochemical environment of the gut remains unchanged.
Most diagnoses are made after an examination of symptoms and having ruled out more serious health conditions.
The exact cause of IBS is unknown and in many cases a number of contributing factors are thought to have an impact. This very much varies from one person to another. The most common factors though to cause the condition include:
- Food - certain food types are thought to trigger IBS symptoms more often than others, although this is very individual. Food intolerance should also be considered
- Digestive problems – bowel contractions are often either too slow or too fast in IBS resulting in constipation, diarrhoea or both
- Gut sensitivity - some people have a more sensitive gut than others leading to an increase in pain perception
- Psychological factors – Stress, anxiety, panic disorder and depression are all psychological factors that can affect the normal functioning of your digestive system. Episodes of feeling stressed or anxious can exacerbate symptoms
- Hormones – the link between hormones and IBS is not clear, but as more women than men suffer the condition, it is thought that the cyclical pattern of hormones have their part to play. This is apparent both during the menstrual cycle and in the menopause
- Gut bacteria – your gut bacteria, otherwise known as microbiota is very important in gut health. Different strains of bacteria vary across people and may differ in those with IBS. It is important to support your friendly gut bacteria and protect it from the bad
- Genetics – research has uncovered a possible genetic cause for IBS. However, the precise nature of this is still uncertain and disputed by some scientists.
IBS affects each person differently. However, most people experience a pattern of symptoms that is recognisable.
While some symptoms are present all the time, others suffer episodes unexpectedly, often described as ‘flare-ups’. Many people find that going to the toilet to open their bowels improves symptoms.
Common symptoms of IBS include:
Some, perhaps more surprising, symptoms of IBS are also likely to manifest as the gut has a big impact on many other areas of the body. These include:
Treatment of IBS is often highly individual and dependent on the symptoms experienced.
In general, IBS can be largely managed by controlling your diet and implementing healthy lifestyle measures, such as eating slowly and exercising regularly. Your mental wellbeing and gut bacteria are also important factors to consider. You can often support these aspects of your health with natural remedies. Conventional treatments may also be useful in the shortterm.
Click on the links below to learn more about these proposed IBS treatments and consider incorporating them into your lifestyle:
TOP TIP: Silicol is a gel containing colloidal silicic acid. It has the ability to bind to a variety of harmful toxic substances including pathogens and can help reduce the symptoms of IBS. Take three times daily before meals.
Want to improve your digestion? Get involved as our Digestion Advisor Ali Cullen takes you through her 5 step plan to improve your digestion and get problem symptoms, from bloating to acid reflux, under control.