Question: How can I manage IBS?

I think I might have IBS – could you tell me a bit more about the symptoms and how one can manage it? I've heard there is no cure.

Answer

Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a common condition which affects the colon. The diagnosis is based on symptoms only as there are no structural changes that occur in IBS. It is important to rule out other more serious conditions which may present with similar symptoms, such as Ulcerative Colitis or Chron’s disease. Some of the most common symptoms of IBS include chronic abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation and cramps. Some patients experience constipation alternating with diarrhoea while others may experience one or the other.

The exact cause of IBS is not known, but it is most likely a combination of different factors that combine to produce the symptoms. Many IBS patients have dysbiosis, which is an imbalance of their natural gut flora. We have billions of beneficial bacteria which reside in the colon and contribute to valuable metabolic processes including digestion. Stress, antibiotic use and poor diet kills off our good bacteria and allows harmful bacteria and fungi like candida to overgrow in the digestive tract. Dysbiosis can produce many of the symptoms of IBS and may certainly be the cause in many patients.

Food intolerances may also contribute to the symptom picture of IBS. Many IBS patients have more severe symptoms when they eat certain foods. A wide variety of foods have been identified as possible triggers, but some of the most common ones include gluten, dairy, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, spices and alcohol. If food intolerance is the cause of the IBS, symptoms will disappear when the food is removed from the diet. A very poor diet high in inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy, sugar, processed foods and refined carbohydrates may also cause symptoms due to the high levels of inflammation they produce in the gut.

Stress is another known cause of IBS symptoms in some patients. I am sure we have all experienced butterflies in our tummies when we are nervous. Similarly stress and anxiety may influence the contraction of the muscles around the intestines causing cramps and IBS symptoms.

Although there may be no “cure” for IBS, many of the causes such as dysbiosis, stress and anxiety can be treated effectively, and a poor diet can be corrected. It is very possible to live a symptom free life with proper treatment and life-style modification. If you need help managing your IBS, one of the Health Renewal doctors could give you expert guidance.

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