Written by: Valerie Hazelrig
Over 6 million people are living with diagnosed IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) in the UK. The medical management of this often misunderstood illness can be complex and due to the very nature of the illness, sufferers coping with IBS often find it difficult to discuss their symptoms and in turn the management of their treatment.
What is IBS?
IBS is best regarded as an illness effecting the abdomen and bowel resulting in diarrhoea, bloating, intense pain, flatulence, constipation and cramping. Many patients suffer in silence being either too embarrassed or ashamed to talk about their ongoing symptoms or simply put it down to “tummy ache” or “eating too much rich food”. But with 10-15% of the population now suffering from IBS, the need for information and reassurance is at an all time high.
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms it is vitally important that you visit your GP. Whilst it is more likely that your symptoms will be a result of IBS, it is vital to rule other illnesses out such as Crohns Disease, Colitus or cancer.
Once diagnosis has been made, you may find that you are offered very little in terms of your management but there are several strategies you can employ to help you cope with your diagnosis.
Firstly, get to know your enemy. The cause of symptoms can vary from person to person so keep a diary as to when your symptoms are worse but the most beneficial action you can take is to have a blood test. This can easily be done through a nutritionist and can identify individual food intolerances. Once you know the foods which trigger your symptoms, you can start to avoid them and reduce the effects of the illness. A stool test will also confirm either the presence or absence of yeast overgrowth, unfriendly bacteria or parasites.
Benefits of a balanced diet
Eating well is essential for everyone’s vitality and health but even more so for IBS sufferers. Eating a balanced diet with regular meals will help to prevent cravings which can lead to reaching for sugary snacks. Sugar is a known irritant to the gut along with caffeine and alcohol so all three of these should be avoided as much as possible.
Antibiotics are also a well known irritant as they kill off not only the bad bacteria but also the good bacteria that reside in the gut. Instead reach for probiotics to help support the gut but again, avoid the sweetened variety. It may also help some sufferers to take calcium and magnesium. These minerals can assist when diarrhoea or constipation strike as they assist the muscles of the gut when either contraction or relaxation is needed. Flax seed can also be thought to help, as it is less stressful on the gut during digestion, in comparison to wheat based products.
For IBS sufferers it is even more important to be able to deal with stress. Whilst easier said than done, the stomach and stress are inextricably linked so controlling your stress levels will in turn help to control the intensity of your symptoms. Try a relaxing bath, slow breathing and perhaps more effective, hypnosis. (Clinical Hypnotherapist Michael Mahoney has developed an IBS specific self hypnosis called IBS Audio Program 100) If relaxing is difficult for you, try gentle exercise instead, it can work wonders! Not only will it benefit you physically but the mental health benefits can have huge impact on your quality of life.
Whatever you choose to do to, don’t let IBS take the joy out of your life. Speak out and get help, you’ll be thankful that you did.