Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common yet chronic gastrointestinal and functional bowel disorder. A functional bowel disorder simply means there is a problem with the function of the bowel and that there is no structural abnormality present.
Treatment in the form of a regulated diet and medication is available to help ease symptoms and patient discomfort, it is thought that IBS can improve and become easier to manage over the course of time also.
One of the most common symptoms is abdominal pain and discomfort. The length and intensity of the pain can vary greatly as it will usually come and go. Many patients describe the level of pain from slight to severe, however, it is known that the frequency and severity of these bouts of pain will vary from time to time in the same patient, and also amongst person to person. Usually, the pain will ease on its own once the patient has managed to pass stools or any trapped wind.
Bloating and abdominal swelling can also occur in IBS sufferers, and the patient may feel they have an excessive need to pass wind.
IBS can cause changes in stool consistency and frequency; some patients will be more prone to having bouts of diarrhoea or bouts of constipation. Others on the other hand can have bouts of both and the sensation that their bowels are not fully emptied. It is possible that mucus is also passed from the back passage. Another symptom can be the feeling of urgency, either of having to go to the toilet quickly or to go repeatedly – usually first thing in the morning, during and after breakfast.
There are plenty of other variable symptoms however the most common symptoms include; feeling lethargic, nauseous, back pains or an irritable bladder. An irritable bladder will usually leave the patient needing to wake up repeatedly in the night to urinate, feeling urgency in the need to urinate and also having difficulty in completely emptying their bladder.
The symptoms of IBS and the severity of the condition itself is variable amongst patients, meaning some patients may suffer with unpleasant symptoms long term and others may just have occasional flare-ups of IBS. The best way to confirm whether you have IBS is to consult your doctor; they will usually be able to confirm a diagnosis from a quick consultation however you may be required to undergo some tests to rule out other more serious conditions with similar symptoms.
If you have had any combination of the above mentioned symptoms for at least six months your doctor should be able to consider you for a diagnosis of IBS. IBS is typically diagnosed once a patient reports abdominal discomfort that appears to be associated with and eases up after bowel movements.
IBS cannot be cured; however the symptoms can be made more manageable by making changes in your diet, lifestyle and understanding the nature of the condition itself. In some patients with more severe symptoms, medication may be required to ease the abdominal pain and offer relief.
A change in diet can play an important role in making the IBS condition more manageable. Some patients find keeping a food diary to see which types of foods trigger symptoms, can greatly assist them in avoiding such foods until the symptoms are manageable.
Depending on whether the patient suffers with more bouts of diarrhoea or constipation, they will be advised to change their intake of fibre. Patients with diarrhoea will find it helps to reduce their intake of insoluble fibre and those with constipation will find relief in increasing the amount of soluble fibre and water in their diet.
In terms of lifestyle changes, patients are regularly advised to take regular exercise and reduce their stress levels along with diet changes for more manageable symptoms.
The FODMAP diet stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. These are all short-chain carbohydrates in foods that are incompletely absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, this leads to them being easily fermented by gut bacteria and exerting an osmotic effect towards the large bowel. Collectively the fermentation and osmotic effects lead to negative IBS symptoms, therefore avoiding such carbohydrates and having a ‘low-FODMAP’ diet can help reduce IBS pain and flare-ups.
A dietician will be able to better advise the foods to avoid in a low-FODMAP diet, however, generally, foods high in lactose, artificial sweeteners, certain green vegetables and fruits should be avoided.