About IBS and Moving Beyond It
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Archan Mehta
If you have been a regular on this blog, you know that Srini has written about his on-again and off-again romance with IBS. Life is difficult, but when you suffer from IBS, well, life can become complicated. Srini had my empathy, so I decided to look at some of the medical literature. A lot of people who suffer from IBS don’t like to admit it–well, it can be socially embarrassing–but if you are one of those people, well, hope this guest post helps you.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common syndrome which affects the gut. We have metres and metres of gut in our bellies. In fact, this is enough to cover a tennis court. So, when it becomes irritated, it really lets us know. We can feel it. According to an estimate, one in five people will suffer from IBS at some stage of their lives. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from IBS. Statistically, therefore, that means it could easily be you.
- Symptoms. You will have discomfort and pain in your abdomen. This tends to come and go: it often gets better after you have passed a bowel motion. Bloating also occurs on and off, and most sufferers would describe themselves as “windy.” Bowel motions can be fast and furious or very sluggish. The size of the motions can change too, to rabbit-poo type or a slimy, mushy stool like a baby’s. However, blood is never a symptom of IBS, and the pain and discomfort of IBS does not cause disturbed sleep.
So, why does it happen?
Nobody really knows for sure, but for some reason the bowel becomes irritated and goes into spasm. This can cause a burst of diarrhoea or constipation with associated wind and bloatedness. This also helps explain why this condition was previously called “spastic colon.”
So, should you head to the doctor?
Well, any sudden change in bowel habit needs to be checked by the doctor.
However, there are no tests for IBS.
Even so, doctors will perform other tests to rule out other conditions. That’s why your doctor may ask you to provide blood, stool or even urine samples. If your symptoms don’t sound like IBS–or if they are new symptoms and you are middle-aged, it is likely that your doctor will refer you to a specialist.
This specialist (gastroenterologist) may ask you to undergo further tests.
After all, lactose intolerance may be the cause for IBS-type symptoms.
This is due to the inability to break down lactose, the sugar found in milk.
We start life with a lot of the enzyme that breaks down milk sugar. As time passes, however, we tend to be less able to digest it. Hence, we get cramps, flatulence and diarrhea on ingesting it in. The real culprits may be milk, butter, as well as processed foods such as peanut butter and cakes.
Sometimes, doctors advise patients to keep a food/symptoms diary for two weeks. This helps to link triggers such as stress or certain food types to flare-ups in the condition. The most common culprits that appear on food diaries are coffee, fizzy drinks, spicy foods, alcohol, fatty foods, processed foods and white bread. Stress is also hugely significant. The bacterial status of your gut is also a factor, as doctors tend to see IBS occurring after a gastro-intestinal infection in about one in six cases.
Antibiotics can cause problems as they kill the good bacteria in the gut and can give rise to an IBS-type syndrome.
So, what can you do about it?
Well, look at your eating habits and adapt them in accordance with your trigger list.
Try to eat regular meals and avoid processed foods. If you need to take antibiotics, it may help to take probiotic drinks or yoghurt afterwards to give you back your good bacteria. Also, take precautions when you travel to avoid traveller’s diarrhoea. As far as medicine is concerned, the name of the game is to clamp down on the symptoms.
- Antispasmodics. These tend to calm down the gut spasm. Thus, it may help with gas, distension, diarrhoea, pain and constipation. There are a few types, all of which work slightly differently. So, if one does not work for you, another might work for you. It is best to use these on a regular basis for a week when the symptoms flare so you can break the cycle.
- Diarrhea And Constipation. For those with IBS that blocks them up, using soluble fibre may help. Is your IBS dominated by diarrhea? Antidiarrhoeal medicine, for example, loperamide, on an as-needed-basis for flare-ups may be what you need. However, be careful as overuse can lead to blockages.
- Anti-deppresants. Often, patients become indignant at this suggestion. However, such medicines can help in antipressing your gut. So, don’t take it personally. Doctors tend to use them for chronic problems like headache or back pain, and they may have a place in treating you.
You may also want to explore alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, ayurveda and hypnotherapy. In fact, “alternative medicine” has been used with success and cognitive-behavioural therapy can help the patient as well.
In the final analysis, however, you have to find out what works best for you and apply that solution to your daily life.
Have you suffered from IBS? Do you still suffer from this condition? What have you done about it? Feel free to share your experiences and ideas in the comments.
Srini–and for those of you who suffer from IBS–I wish you a speedy recovery. Thank you for your patronage.
( Archan Mehta is a freelancer, consultant, and a teacher of meditation. Feel free to contact Archan at firstname.lastname@example.org at your own convenience.)
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