We all have tummy trouble now and then, but if you find yourself with on-going digestive drama, you might be suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. IBS usually first develops between 20 and 30 years of age and around twice as many women are affected as men.
Today, Dr Paul Wilson, Consultant Gastroenterologist at Spire Parkway Hospital, gives us the lowdown on IBS...
What exactly is Irritable Bowl Syndrome?
"Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is thought to affect as many as one in five people in the UK, leaving them struggling with symptoms including stomach cramps, bloating and a myriad of digestive issues such as diarrhea and constipation. However it is often still misdiagnosed as symptoms are similar to a number of other health complaints, including more serious issues such as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis."
What are the symptoms?
"The symptoms vary between individuals and affect some people more severely than others. They tend to come and go in periods lasting a few days to a few months at a time, often during times of stress or after eating certain foods. The main symptoms are alternating constipation and diarrhoea (although some individuals may have a predominance of either), abdominal pain or discomfort, and bloating."
How is IBS diagnosed?
"There are no specific tests for IBS, as it does not cause any obvious detectable abnormalities in your digestive system. In most cases, a diagnosis will be based on whether you have typical symptoms and your GP will consider assessing you for IBS if you have had symptoms for at least six months. Your doctor will take a history (document your symptoms) and examine you to make sure you are suffering from IBS and not something more ‘sinister’. Once they have carried out an examination they will be in a position to decide whether medication or simply a change of diet and lifestyle would be the best pathway for you to take – it may well be a mixture of both!"
How can the menstrual cycle aggravate IBS?
"Quite a few women notice that their IBS symptoms become worse around the time of their period – in fact there are some who only have symptoms at the time of their period. However, managing the symptoms – even if they are on a monthly basis – is a full time job! There are several positive steps you can take to control the symptoms of IBS but they won’t have any effect if you only take them at the time the symptoms begin to show."
What can be done to manage the condition?
"Stopping smoking and cutting down on alcohol are two immediate steps sufferers can take which usually improves their situation. Stick to a healthy diet which includes fresh fruit and vegetables and cutting down on processed food. In general terms keeping fit should have a beneficial effect on your symptoms. Those with IBS are often less active than those without and increasing activity has been shown to help symptoms in some cases."
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