With the overwhelming presence of bloating, gas, sore stomachs and rear-end ‘issues’ becoming the norm in the human condition, one would be forgiven for thinking that these symptoms are a part of everyday life. So many Australians live with these sometimes debilitating ailments as a result of digestive problems, the foods and drinks they consume, food intolerances, allergies and sensitivities, and the increasing diagnosis of digestive system-based issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome reflect the change in the human diet and lifestyle and it’s affect on our bodies.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects one in every five Australians, with most people having experienced the symptoms at one time or another, either as a permanent affliction or a temporary ailment. Other names for IBS are ‘spastic colon’ and ‘irritable colon’ and IBS tends to affect more women than men, usually starting in early adulthood.
Some of the common symptoms of IBS include:
- abdominal pain or cramping that is relieved by passing gas or defacating (ie; doing a big poo!)
- change in bowel habits
- alternating and frequent constipation and diarrhoea
- feeling of urgency to poo
- feeling that your bowels have not completely emptied when you’ve finished poo-ing
- mucus present in stools
However, as with a lot of medical problems, none of these symptoms are exclusive indicators of IBS. People with IBS also report the following accompanying ailments:
- sexual disfunction in form of lowered libido
- reflux (GORD)
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- depression and anxiety (this correlation is the highest, with 60% of IBS sufferers also having a psychological disorder)
Types Of IBS
IBS is divided into three categories, dependant mainly on the form of the stool passed. These are:
- Constipation predominant – alternating between constipation and normal stools and usually triggered by eating.
- Diarrhoea predominant – experiences diarrhoea first thing in the morning and after eating. Incontinence is not uncommon and the sense to use the toilet is often urgent.
- Alternating between diarrhoea and constipation – a mix of symptoms
People with IBS have sensitive bowels that are easily upset by a number of factors. The direct cause of IBS is unknown, however it is well reported that stress, certain food and food combinations and infection can aggravate the condition. A bout of gastro will result in persistent bowel movements, even when the virus has left the body and accounts for 25% of reported cases of IBS. The most common dietary trigger for IBS is the impaired absorption of sugar lactose (found in dairy and processed foods), as well as (to a lesser extent) fructose and sorbitol. Low fibre diets can exacerbate constipation and some IBS sufferers have problems with spicy foods. Emotional stress, such as anxiety and depression, actually affect the nerves of the bowel in susceptible people, and medications such as painkillers, antacids and antibiotics can lead to constipation and/or diarrhoea increase in those prone to IBS.
Interestingly, studies have shown a correlation between childhood physical and psychological abuse and a later diagnosis of IBS, as well as a prolonged fever as a child and repeated bouts of gastroenteritis. There are many studies that support the relationship between IBS and mental health.
IBS symptoms can mask many other illness’s, including diverticulitis, inflammatory bowel disease or polyps and coeliac disease and lactose intolerance produce many of the same symptoms also. It is important to seek medical advice and testing to confirm your suspicions of IBS.
Diagnostic testing includes:
- Blood tests for both IBS and Coeliac
- Full medical check
- Stool samples
- Colonoscopy (if necessary) – investigation of bowel under sedation
- Sigmoidoscopy – investigation of bowel via small tube
It is important to note that IBS has no cure and only preventative measures can be taken to decrease the likelihood of an episode. Individual triggers need to be identified and then a plan can be made to avoid them. These can include:
- Slow increase in dietary fibre
- reducing and eliminating gas-producing foods, such as beans and cabbage
- reducing and eliminating dairy foods (if lactose intolerance is a factor)
- Anti-diarrhoea medication (for those suffering diarrhoea predominant IBS)
- Laxatives to relieve constipation (however prolonged use is not encouraged as it can lead to dependance and other organ damage)
- Antispasmodic drugs to relieve cramping
- Stress management
- Having an eating routine
It is important to note that IBS, like many illness’s, is an individual disease with individual symptoms and triggers. What works for one person suffering from IBS will not necessarily work for another. Should you think you are showing the symptoms of IBS, speak to your GP.
If you become concerned about any symptoms please seek immediate medical attention we have some hotlines and suggested websites for further information and advice https://www.stayathomemum.com.au/my-kids/babies/important-hotlines-websites/
SAHM takes no responsibility for any illness, injury or death caused by misuse of this information. All information provided is correct at time of publication.