IBS Can Affect You

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a common functional disorder that impacts the digestive system. Managing this chronic condition can be challenging, with symptoms lasting for days, weeks, or even months.

In England and Wales, it’s estimated that between 1.6 and 3.9 million people have IBS. However, many others manage their condition through self-care and dietary adjustments, often not seeking medical advice. The way IBS influences individuals varies greatly, as we discuss in more detail below.

How does IBS affect the body?

It’s estimated that as many as 1 in 8 people experience IBS symptoms at any given time. The range of symptoms is quite diverse and can impact daily life in various ways.

Common signs of IBS include bloating and abdominal distension, leading to a wider girth of the abdomen, and the presence of mucus in stool. Abdominal pain and fluctuating bowel habits are also quite common. Among those living with IBS, around one-third regularly experience constipation, another third deal with frequent bouts of diarrhoea, while others don’t fit into a singular symptom pattern.

IBS can also manifest in other ways like persistent tiredness, feeling nauseous, backache, and bladder issues. It’s important to note that the condition can vary over time and shift from one type to another. For example, post-infectious IBS, which follows gastroenteritis, can often lead to diarrhoea.

This variability is key because treatments can differ significantly depending on the primary problem — diarrhoea or constipation. As symptoms change, treatment may need to adjust accordingly.

How does IBS affect your life?

Living with IBS isn’t just about physical discomfort. It can also have significant psychological implications, especially in those with more severe symptoms. Feelings of anxiety or depression are commonly reported, and the constant management of its symptoms can be challenging.

IBS often triggers a strong need to use the bathroom, which can influence a person’s decisions on where they go and what they do. Many patients with IBS may find themselves planning their outings and activities around toilet availability, or even avoiding certain places entirely if there isn’t easy access to a bathroom.

What treatments are available for IBS?

Your diet can greatly impact IBS symptoms. Simple dietary changes, like excluding potential ‘trigger’ foods, could help improve symptoms. Natural oat or rice bran, wholegrain rice or ispaghula husk, are beneficial for constipation, but avoid adding wheat bran which can exacerbate symptoms. If you have a history of eating disorders, dietary changes might not be the best approach, but non-dietary alternatives can be explored.

IBS treatment extends beyond diet. Various medications can also help, including over-the-counter drugs that reduce bowel spasms, natural laxatives, and even peppermint oil. Trial and error is often key, as what works varies from patient to patient.

Some may find probiotics or small doses of certain antidepressants effective. New drugs targeting specific symptoms, such as diarrhoea or constipation, are in development. Alternative treatments, like hypnotherapy and relaxation therapy, can also provide relief for some. To address the mental health effects, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is worth considering.

To determine the best course of treatment for you, book an appointment with Mr Michael Stellakis today.