IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, currently affects between 10% and 20% of the population. This is a huge number and it means that IBS support is needed now more than ever.
While IBS is not necessarily life threatening, as most sufferers will know, it has a very powerful impact on those who struggle with it. As with any condition, information is a powerful weapon. So here’s everything you need to know about this common digestive problem.
What is IBS?
While the underlying cause of IBS is not yet known, the condition causes abnormal movement within the bowel. This can in turn leads to spasms. This is a functional condition, which means that there is no physical difference in the bowel of someone with and without Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The only difference is the manner in which the bowel functions.
This condition causes a range of symptoms, including pain, constipation, bloating and diarrhoea. The triggers for these episodes are not always known and can be sporadic – so you do not always know when it might strike.
Some professionals believe that IBS may be directly related to abnormal contractions in the walls of the intestines. When the contractions are too weak, they could lead to constipation and bloating as the walls struggle to push out the waste.
On the other hand, if the contractions are too strong, they could lead to diarrhoea as the powerful contractions have an impact on the waste.
The symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome differ markedly from one person to another, both in terms of frequency and severity.
While some people might struggle with these symptoms every now and again, others need to make big changes in their daily lives in order to cope with it. This makes IBS a very personalised condition. While you might know a handful of people who suffer from it, it’s rare that two will have the same symptoms.
The Mind / Body Connection
Statistically, IBS symptoms are more likely to occur in woman and they can be triggered by anxiety. Unfortunately, this only adds to the mystery of this condition! It has long been known that anxiety can have a direct impact on the bowel and when it comes to IBS. For some, anxiety can trigger episodes of diarrhoea or constipation, while others might experience painful bloating and gas.
Because IBS has such a strong connection to anxiety and stress, many people don’t take it very seriously. Some people might even say “it’s all in your head”, but this is not the case. While the symptoms are exacerbated by stress, they are very real.
Managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Treatment & Support
It might surprise most people to learn that when you’re treating IBS, you’re not actually treating the condition.
Doctors aren’t sure what causes IBS, so there’s no way to actually combat the source of the problem. You can however combat the symptoms if you know how.
While there might not be an IBS cure, symptoms can be managed by making some simple changes to diet and lifestyle. These don’t have to be huge changes, but they’ll keep your bowel – and by extension, yourself – much happier.
When it comes to tackling the symptoms, you’re dealing directly with the constipation, gas, bloating, diarrhoea and resulting pain that IBS causes.
Small, regular meals will keep your bowels happier than fewer, larger meals. Meal preparation can go a long way in helping you to prepare for these more frequent meals. This also takes a lot of the anxiety out of meal times. Knowing when to eat, and how much to consume, is just as important as knowing what – and what not – to eat.
Drink More Water
Experts recommend at least 8 glasses of water each day. This ensures that you’re giving your bowels lots of lubrication to prevent constipation and even gas build-up. While we’re on the subject of drinking, cutting down on coffee and fizzy drinks can also help. Not only is it better for your bowels, but will also make it easier for you to drink more water.
The question of fibre isn’t a straightforward one when it comes to IBS. While some recommend that an IBS diet be fibre-filled, others recommend exactly the opposite. Why the confusion? Because it all depends on the individual.
If you’re struggling with diarrhoea on a regular basis, you’ll want to make sure that you reduce your fibre intake. If, on the other hand, you’re constipated, you need to increase your fibre intake. Getting the right balance can be tricky, but it’s important to listen to your body and what it needs.
Keep a Food Diary
The easiest way of learning what foods suit you best is to start a food diary. This can also help you remember which ones you need to run a mile from! Keep track of what you eat, when you eat it and how you feel afterwards. You can start to identify patterns when you look at your food consumption this way. It’s also much easier to make the adjustments that will have you feeling better than you have a long time.
The FODMAP Diet
The FODMAP diet has been gaining a lot of ground in recent years because of its impact on IBS symptoms. Foods that are high in FODMAP, or Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, have been known to increase Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms.
These are foods such as cherries, apples and peaches. On the other hand, the foods low in FODMAP (such as marrow, carrots and squash) have been known to reduce the symptoms of IBS.
IBS is a common but mysterious condition that affects many people. While the condition is made worse by anxiety, it is most certainly not something that resides solely in the mind.
This condition has the potential to impact every aspect of your wellbeing, from your social interactions to your diet, so it can help for sufferers to take as much control of it as possible. Keeping yourself healthy and happy means getting to know how the condition affects you, and which treatment options work best for you.