Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a chronic long term disorder which affects the digestive system, causing abdominal pain, diarrhoea and constipation. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is also known as spastic colon, spastic colitis, mucous colitis, nervous diarrhoea, nervous colon, nervous bowel or functional bowel.
According to the NHS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome affects around 10-20% of people in the UK at some point in their life, and the condition is twice as common in women as it is in men.
Common symptoms include abdominal pain and cramp (often relieved by emptying your bowel), bloating and swelling of the abdomen, diarrhoea or constipation or both, excessive wind and an urgent need to go to the toilet. These symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome can often be worse after eating. In addition, Irritable Bowel Syndrome can also cause lower back pain, muscle or joint pain, nausea, tiredness and headaches. In addition, due to the pain and discomfort, Irritable Bowel Syndrome can also lead to feelings of depression and anxiety.
The exact causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome are not known. Research suggests that genetic and environmental factors both play a part, as well as an abnormality with how the muscles move food through the digestive system. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is also associated with a malfunction of the immune system, and an unusual response to infection.
Psychological factors can also play an important role in Irritable Bowel Syndrome, with changes in emotional states such as stress or depression can often cause a flare up of symptoms.
Changes in diet can help control the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and sufferers are encouraged to keep a food diary to see what foods make their symptoms worse. As well as avoiding trigger foods, people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome are often advised to modify the amount of fibre in their diet.
The following dietary advice, in conjunction with advice from your GP, may help control the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome:
- have regular meal and eat slowly
- avoid long gaps between eating
- drink lots of fluid, particularly water
- reduce caffeinated drinks such as tea or coffee
- reduce your intake of alcoholic or fizzy drinks
Do not undertake a exclusion diet where you exclude a particular group of food such as dairy products or meat, without the supervision of a dietician.
Exercise and Probiotics (dietary supplements containing "friendly bacteria") can also help relieve the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
A variety of medications can also be used to help treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome:
- antispasmodic medicines which reduce abdominal pain and cramping
- laxatives for constipation
- antimotility medicines for diarrhoea
- tricyclic antidepressants which although originally designed for depression
are used to reduce the feeling of abdominal pain and cramping.