Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a condition that has recently entered the health arena with the number of people, experiencing the symptoms growing every day. Unfortunately, despite numerous research and literature on the subject, IBS is still misunderstood and misdiagnosed with only 50% of IBS cases being related to diet and the remaining 50% being seldom examined and individual specific. IBS has now become the ‘buzz’ word used by many doctors to define unexplained changes in digestion and gut health and many patients are left with a generic list of recommended foods and pain killers to take all their life. This is not a fair approach and is neither healthy nor sustainable.
The causes for IBS are often deep-rooted in the patient’s health history, emotional state and environmental influence. And I am the perfect example of this. Having gone from periods of severe stomach pain and frequent bowel movements in childhood, not fully resolved by the medical professionals, to severe complications later in adult life, I went on a quest to fight IBS alone through education and experimentation. I spent long years battling with the symptoms of intense pain, diarrhoea, bloating and constipation to now realise that the only way to ‘cure’ this condition is to embrace your gut health, find your own IBS type and learn how to manage it. This and subsequent posts will describe my experience and learnings, hoping to help more of you – IBSers.
First, let’s have an overview of what we must all know about IBS.
IBS involves the intestines (bowels), especially the large bowel (colon). We have 3 types of IBS: IBS-D (diarrhoea mainly); IBS-C (constipation) or IBS – D+C with the symptoms being as follows:
- diarrhoea, constipation or both
- excess gas or wind
- abdominal pain
- nausea and back pain.
However, a diagnosis can’t be made seldom on these. A thorough medical check needs to be conducted to exclude more serious options. Many doctors used to believe that IBS was caused by emotional issues that later upset the gut because no signs of disease could be found in the bowel. Psychological factors are indeed potential triggers but should not be used to solely explain the condition. The belief that IBS was ‘all in the head’ meant that it was dismissed by many professionals as a minor problem, leaving patients confused and even depressed.
IBS is not a life-threatening condition but a condition, threatening the quality of life. The abdominal pain may be very severe, making the bed your new best friend while the sudden bouts of diarrhoea often create stressful situations when being out and unable to respond to the ‘urge’. That was me a lot of the time and as a person, deeply in love with exercise, not being able to visit the gym was making my emotional state even worse. I even had clients telling me that they had to learn the exact locations of every single toilet when going in town or visiting new places.
As you can see, IBS is not a minor issue and even seeing a specialists, such as a gastroenterologist may not always be enough. The condition must be dealt with care due to its effects on social and emotional wellbeings – research shows that the symptoms are comparable or sometimes worse than depression, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Why is IBS still misunderstood?
The diagnosis of IBS is given after a detailed discussion of symptoms with the doctor. There is no particular symptom pattern to confirm the condition but certain tests must be performed to exclude dangerous diseases. Unfortunately, there is no single test to show IBS and thus many doctors see it as any case of abdominal pain that has unexplained causes. Quite often, even after taking a detail medical history, blood and stool tests, along with endoscopy (internal examination with a mini camera, attached to a tube that looks at the stomach or large bowel), abnormalities are not discovered and the solution is not clear. In such cases though, we as patients should still be grateful that the dangerous diseases are excluded. Thus since we can’t name a particular cause for IBS, it is defined as a condition in which abdominal pain occurs over a long time, accompanied by irregular bowel habits. If the following ‘Red Flag’ symptoms are present though, further instigation is required:
- Weight loss
- Blood in stools
- Abdominal pain or diarrhoea during the night
As you can see from the variety of symptoms, IBS includes several conditions and with no exact test to confirm it, it is of no surprise that some doctors can’t fully ‘cure’ it. As a result, some recommend either inappropriate treatments or give a list of foods to avoid, leaving us, the patients, feeling even worse.
What’s the future for IBS sufferers?
I believe that enough research has now been conducted on the condition to provide us with enough protocols to follow depending on the symptoms, giving IBS sufferers hope and control over their treatment. As a Nutritionist, this is where I am investing my time and energy to make sure my knowledge is up to date, allowing me to tailor my approach to the individual and their type of IBS. It still frustrates me when I clients share their disappointing experiences with the medical professionals and how little help they have received.
The truth is that not many doctors study nutrition to the extent that we do or even worse they don’t use their free time to read the latest research and explore this part of HEALTH. If, for example, your doctor qualified more than 10 years ago, chances are that he or she had fewer than 12 years of training in nutrition. Looking after a person’s Health is not about popping a pill or treating the symptoms. It’s about taking a holistic view of their lifestyle, diet and fitness and if knowledge is not enough, seek help and collaborate with other professionals. Even I do it with fellow Nutritionist or Functional Medicine Practitioners when the case is too complex for my knowledge. It’s about HEALTH, not MONEY or REPUTATION. It’s about time to remove the silos between the medicine and nutrition and bring us all together for the greatest GOOD – HUMAN HEALTH.
I hope this gives you a general idea of IBS and how you can approach your initial treatment. You can find more about each type in subsequent posts. And remember, IBS is not your enemy anymore. It can be ‘cured’ through lifestyle ‘management’ – we need the discipline to take control. If you want to get my guidance on this journey, get touch:).
In Health & Balance,