What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the common functional bowel and gastrointestinal disorders, with as many as 1 in 5 suffering from IBS (35-40% of males and 60-65% of females). Symptoms include frequent abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhoea and/or a mixture of both. Various other symptoms may include a change in bowel habits which may result in cramps, bloating and gas and may even trigger headaches, backaches, fatigue, depression and anxiety all of which may be alleviated with defecation (going to the bathroom).
What causes IBS?
It has been found that IBS is potentially hereditary, as close relatives are twice as likely to suffer from it too. IBS can be found in all age groups – including teenagers, but is most prevalent in the 25-54 year age group. IBS is not linked to cancer or other bowel related problems, nor any other life threatening illness.
Recent studies have shown that 40% of irritable bowel suffers have mild IBS, with 35% having moderate and 25% severe and debilitating IBS. There is no known cure as yet for IBS but there are several ways it can be managed with the Low FODMAP Diet being the most successful. Doctors have found that stress is a major trigger of IBS in their patients so many try to manage the levels of stress using low dose anti depressants that also act on the pain and also with Cognitive Behavourial Therapy (CBT). IBS is not linked to cancer or other bowel related problems, nor any other life threatening illness.
Should a Doctor be consulted?
Many do ‘suffer in silence’, especially because of the stigma attached to constipation and diarrhoea. A visit to the Doctor is recommended as a blood test will confirm IBS. Doctors and Dietitians can advise on ways in which the symptoms can be successfully managed by identifying ‘trigger foods’. Many sufferers favour keeping a diary for three – four weeks to establish trigger foods. Situations such as irregular eating patterns ie; skipping meals, lack or exercise, eating larger portions, eating too late at night or even stress and lack of a good nights sleep can also affect digestion and trigger irritable bowel symptoms. Increasing fibre intake and exercising regularly have both been found to ease symptoms. Many favour following the Low FODMAP Diet for a few months but it is recommended that you visit a Dietician who can explain the diet in detail.
The advice given by King’s College London is-
The diet is effective when FODMAP-trained dieticians provide the dietary advice. A recent evaluation has shown that 76% of patients that had seen a FODMAP-trained dietitian reported improvement in symptoms after being on the diet.
As this is a complex and restrictive diet, it is very important that you follow a well-balanced diet and meet your nutritional requirements. The diet should be individualised to each patient taking into consideration your usual dietary intake and symptom profile. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that you see a dietitian to follow the low FODMAP diet.