As there are a range of symptoms associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and the cause of it isn’t always clear in the first place, it’s not always easy to tell whether or not you have the condition. Here our Nutritionist and Digestion Advisor Emma Thornton hopes to shed a little more light on the condition by discussing everything from the first signs of IBS to common symptoms. With this information to hand it should be a little easier to determine whether or not you have IBS.
So, while the main symptoms of IBS usually include stomach pain and cramps, uncomfortable bloating, plus episodes of constipation, diarrhoea (often with urgency) or both interchangeably; it isn't unusual to also experience other symptoms including sleep disturbances or mental health issues.
A ‘Symptoms Diary’ will allow you to keep note of any issues and should indicate if there are any links between what you’re eating and the severity of your symptoms.
Should I see a doctor?
If you experience infrequent bouts of diarrhoea and bloating then it's not really a cause for concern - perhaps last night's curry was just a little too spicy or you ate your dinner too quickly. The problem is when symptoms reoccur time and time again thus affecting your ability to get on with your daily routine.
So, if digestive problems are causing frequent discomfort it is really important to visit your doctor for a check-up. Plus, if you're over 50 or notice a sudden change in your digestive symptoms, you should also have this checked with your doctor. They'll be able to do further investigations in order to determine the cause of your symptoms, plus they'll be able to provide expert advice on the matter.
How do you test for IBS?
Initially, our IBS symptoms checker could help you to better understand the symptoms you are experiencing, plus it provides more information on IBS and how to tackle it.
Then, if you visit your doctor they will ask you a series of questions about your symptoms and may check your stomach for lumps and swelling. After this they may decide to arrange a blood or stool test in order to rule out any other cause for your symptoms.
A diagnosis at the doctors can be made using the 'Rome IV criteria' whilst ruling other conditions out. However, the criteria being met is still rather vague, can still include a wide range of symptoms; and ultimately there is no one 'cure'; hence why IBS is often referred to as an 'umbrella term' for digestive malfunction. However, ultimately, IBS may be diagnosed and a different type of IBS may be assigned, including IBS-C (constipation-dominant), IBS-D (diarrhoea dominant) or IBS-M (mixed type).
What causes it?
Although there is no clear cause of IBS, there are a few things that are thought to contribute to the problem. Although diet seemingly often has the biggest impact on IBS symptoms, diet can often be considered as a 'trigger' rather the true underlying cause. Often, as the symptoms become better managed, different dietary components can become better tolerated once more, unless of course there is an underlying allergy at play. Regardless, whilst IBS symptoms are apparent, certain foods including caffeine, spice, alcohol and chocolate can often trigger symptoms. On top of this, an intolerance to the likes of dairy or wheat can also add to digestive upset.
Whilst the true cause of IBS is relatively unknown and may vary from person to persons, it's likely that a variety of underlying causes could be contributing in many cases, including a combination of gut sensitivity issues, inflammation, gut bacteria imbalance, hormones and underlying stress and nervous system influences. Psychological factors like stress or mental health issues can also have a significant impact on the digestive processes. In this instance they may work less efficiently, hence the onset of problems like constipation or looser stools.
Can you suddenly develop IBS?
IBS can develop at any age, though most people are in their 20s or 30s when symptoms first occur, plus, it seems to be more common in women than men.
As I mentioned, stress can contribute to IBS symptoms however, in this instance problems may occur in someone who doesn't normally have the condition. As long as the source of stress isn't a long-term problem though, any issues tend to ease once the stressful situation has passed.
Once you've received a diagnosis of IBS there are a range of measures you can put in place to help manage the condition. Whilst there is no 'cure', as such, for IBS, a multi-disciplinary approach is often the key to help manage the symptoms of IBS:
Minimise stress - If you are stressed whilst eating, the adrenalin you're producing will switch off your digestive system. If the stress you are experiencing is more chronic, this can cause more long-term problems, so adopting some stress management techniques is often an important part of helping to manage the symptoms of IBS.
Diet – limiting your intake of food and drinks that are likely to cause irritation in your stomach can help to ease some of the symptoms of IBS. Problem foods will vary from person to person so, as I've already mentioned, a symptoms diary can help pin-point where the issues lie. FODMAPS, for one, are one food group that limiting, at least initially, could help to manage your symptoms. However, fibre is also important, so how should you approach this? Click here to read more on FODMAP friendly foods, and watch my self-care video tip below for more information:
My Self-Care Tip: Understanding fibre if you have IBS
Here I explain how to better understand and approach fibre, and in particular FODMAPs, if you suffer from IBS:
Herbal remedies –these are often a great option for individuals suffering from IBS. Herbal bitters such as Digestisan encourage the secretion of digestive juices and enzymes which, in turn, improves digestion. This particular product also contains a mix of Cynara, Dandelion, Peppermint and dried Boldo leaves which helps to bring relief from issues such as indigestion and flatulence. Another great natural option for those suffering from IBS is Silicol gel. This contains silicic acid which binds to harmful substances and helps facilitate their removal from the body. This process helps to reduce IBS symptoms such as nausea, flatulence, stomach ache and diarrhoea.
Pre & probiotics – Prebiotics such as Molkosan and ultimately the addition of good quality probiotics such as Optibac or Symprove are often a useful tactic to help minimise the symptoms of IBS by addressing and imbalance in good gut bacteria.
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.