No one-treatment-fits-all when it comes to IBS
An estimated 20% of Australians will experience IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) to some extent during their lifetime, with the condition three times as common in women as it is in men.
IBS can have a seriously detrimental impact on a person’s life, however, many people remain undiagnosed as they are too embarrassed to see their doctor, or dismiss their symptoms as insignificant.
April is IBS Awareness Month, and the Gut Foundation is encouraging anyone with recurring or chronic gut-related symptoms to see their doctor for advice and support. Common symptoms of IBS include changes in bowel habits (constipation and/or diarrhea), abdominal bloating, pain, cramping and excessive flatulence.
IBS does not discriminate, and can affect people of all fitness levels, cultural backgrounds, and ages, however most people first experience symptoms during their late teens or early twenties. Each person’s experience of IBS can be unique, with symptoms and effective treatments varying significantly from person to person.
Professor Terry Bolin, President of the Gut Foundation, says, “IBS most commonly starts after some kind of gastro bug like Bali belly or gastroenteritis. These illnesses can damage the lining of the gut, making it more sensitive, and can result in typical IBS symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, bloating and abdominal pain. Some people will have these symptoms for a while, and then spontaneously get better, but others may have to deal with symptoms on and off for the rest of their lives.”
An estimated one third of people with IBS will find that their symptoms go away completely, however the remainder will need to deal with symptoms that fluctuate throughout their lifetime.
“IBS symptoms can wax and wane, and the effectiveness of treatments can vary from person to person. Some people respond well to dietary changes, however others may find they require medication,” Prof Bolin said.
Just as there are many ways that IBS presents, there are also many different remedies that are used to manage IBS symptoms. Some people find that relaxation and gentle exercise such as yoga helps, or find their symptoms ease through allied health treatments like ‘gut-directed hypnotherapy’, whereas others will only find relief through medication use – either over the counter or prescription.
“While not life-threatening, IBS can cause immense pain and discomfort for some people, and can impact people’s lives quite considerably,” Prof Bolin said.
“There are many drugs available these days that can ease the pain and discomfort, help with bloating, and manage the constipation or diarrhea. That’s why it’s so important to see your doctor if you’re experiencing IBS-type symptoms, for proper diagnosis and advice. A doctor can also rule out any other health conditions, like Crohn’s Disease or Bowel Cancer.”
Amy, the woman behind the successful health and wellness blog Eat, Pray, Workout, first began experiencing IBS symptoms four years ago, after a nasty bout of Salmonella.
“It took my body ages to recover from the food poisoning, and even when it was over, my digestive system was still all over the place,” Amy said.
“I was experiencing extreme bloating, often with intense pain, as well as alternating constipation and diarrhea. The symptoms were quite distressing – painful as well as embarrassing – and sometimes I just wouldn’t want to leave the house.”
Amy, under the supervision of a dietician, is currently trialling the low FODMAP diet, which involves eliminating certain carbohydrates from the diet for a period of two to four weeks, and then reintroducing them in a certain order, to identify triggers.
Chloe McLeod, an Accredited Practicing Dietician, says, “Following a diet that is low in FODMAPs has been shown to help relieve symptoms of IBS for some people. FODMAPs -Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols – are types of carbohydrates that can be poorly absorbed in the small intestine, resulting in increased water to be drawn into the gut, causing diarrhea in some people. For others, the carbohydrates travel to the large intestine, where they are fermented by bacteria, producing excess gas, which can cause typical IBS symptoms like bloating, constipation, flatulence, pain and nausea.”
Prof Bolin adds, “Diet can be a very effective way to control IBS symptoms for many people. While the low FODMAP diet may be useful for some, other people may find it more beneficial to avoid other known irritants like fatty or spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine. Many people eliminate foods like dairy and gluten, thinking that this will help, but it is unnecessary to avoid them long-term, and may in fact mean you’re missing out on important nutrients.”
“It’s important to be aware that IBS is a very real condition, with very real symptoms – it’s definitely not all in your head,“ Prof Bolin said.
“Fortunately, there are also lots of different treatment options that can be very effective.”
The Gut Foundation will be holding a Q&A session on its Facebook page www.facebook.com/gutfoundation at 12:30pm AEST on Friday, 28 April 2017, where Professor Terry Bolin and dietician Chloe McLeod will answer questions and provide information and advice about IBS.