IRRITABLE bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder of the gastroinestinal tract or gut. According to Dr Alfred Dawes, general, laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon, the symptoms include constipation, diarrhoea, or both, cramping pain, bloating and passing of gas.
Importantly, he said the condition affects women more often than men and is seen primarily in those under age 50.
Dr Dawes said IBS is thought to be the result of the muscles in the colon being hyper or underactive, changes in the gut bacteria, hormonal changes, inflammation and stress.
“The condition may not affect people unless they are going through a stressful period. Inflammation in the gut can be a reaction to certain types of foods and simply eliminating those foods from one's diet will control the symptoms,” he said.
Further, Dr Dawes said controlling your stress levels can play a big role in treating IBS. He pointed out that relaxation techniques and biofeedback have been shown to have a positive effect.
Also, Dr Dawes said in some patients where the cause is primarily changes in the gut bacteria, the use of probiotics can help to restore balance in the colon.
Though not a life-threatening condition, Dr Dawes said IBS can be problematic.
“Some people have anxiety, especially in social settings, because of the unpredictability of their gut. It may sometimes lead to depression especially in severe cases. Absenteeism from school or work is a problem during flares and this may affect productivity,” he said, adding that many people live a fairly normal life after changing their diet and incorporating stress releasing activities.
But Dr Dawes said where IBS is concerned, one should never self-diagnose as the condition mimics several serious diseases such as diverticular disease, inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer.
“It is best to seek medical attention and have your doctor rule out these conditions first. Warning signs that you could have more than simply IBS include persistent cramping not relieved by passing gas, blood in stool, weight loss, anaemia, change in the shape of your stool, a family history of cancer, and vomiting,” he said.
He added: “Most people dismiss the symptoms as gas. However, pain due to intestinal gas is usually episodic and experienced after fasting. The gas pain and bloating in IBS is usually prolonged and occurs more frequently. Bloating is usually more common in IBS than simple gas although both are relieved with passing wind. The constipation of IBS is long-standing in that that is the dominant feature of the condition. It may not be relieved by increased intake of vegetables and water, requiring laxatives. But laxative abuse in itself can cause serious medical problems.”
Dr Dawes said once a diagnosis of IBS is made, a person can work at figuring out their triggers and how to eliminate them.