April is IBS Awareness Month. This calendar event is aimed at heightening awareness of the causes and symptoms of IBS, and the treatment options available. It also encourages sufferers to talk about their condition and take positive steps to manage their symptoms.
The exact cause is unknown, but attacks can be triggered by stress and dietary factors. Typical symptoms of IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome include abdominal pain, a sense of urgency (having to rush to the toilet), bloating and gas, and diarrhoea or constipation.
Might you have IBS?
Learn your ABC for IBS! The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) advises that anyone experiencing the following symptoms for 6 months or longer should be assessed for IBS:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Change in bowel habit
Common myths and misconceptions
There are many misconceptions about IBS, perhaps because many people find IBS difficult or embarrassing to talk about. A clear understanding of IBS can help sufferers to manage the condition more effectively.
1. MYTH: IBS is “all in the head”
FACT: For many years, doctors believed IBS was a psychological condition, only existing in the patient’s head. This misconception is damaging for patients who require practical help to manage IBS. Fortunately physicians now have a better understanding of the condition and can offer practical approaches to relieve symptoms.
2. MYTH: IBS is not a serious condition
FACT: IBS is not life-threatening, and it is not an inflammatory disease like Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis. However, IBS can significantly impact a person’s quality of life and ability to function on a day-to-day basis. These are serious concerns and should be treated as such by your GP.
3. MYTH: IBS is related to lactose intolerance
FACT: IBS and lactose intolerance are not linked, although their symptoms are very similar. Some people suffer with both IBS and lactose intolerance. If your symptoms are relieved by cutting out lactose, or by taking lactase supplements, then it is possible you have lactose intolerance rather than IBS.
4. MYTH: Increasing your fibre intake will help IBS
FACT: Although fibre is an important part of a healthy diet, certain types of fibre can actually trigger IBS symptoms. In IBS, the rough edges of insoluble fibre can irritate the digestive tract, causing abdominal pain and cramps. Swapping foods high in insoluble fibre, such as bran flakes, for foods high in soothing soluble fibre, such as oats, can help to manage painful symptoms.
5. MYTH: IBS cannot be diagnosed
FACT: There is an established protocol that GPs can use to diagnose IBS. By assessing symptoms and ruling out other digestive disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease, your doctor can accurately diagnose IBS.
6. MYTH: There are no good treatment options for IBS
FACT: There are several prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and nutritional supplements that can relieve symptoms for sufferers. Different approaches can work for different people, and it is sometimes necessary to experiment to find what works best for you. Some over the counter medications can actually make symptoms worse if they are used excessively. Dietary and lifestyle changes can make a world of difference. For example, the FODMAP diet has proved helpful to many. Probiotics (especially strains such as Bifidobacterium Infantis), peppermint oil, and soluble fibre supplements such as psyllium husk all represent effective natural approaches to troublesome symptoms.
If you have been diagnosed with IBS then a nutritional therapist can advise you on dietary management and helpful supplements. If you suspect you may have IBS then you should initially speak to your GP. After all, one of the most important messages of IBS Awareness Month is that nobody should have to suffer in silence.
Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC
National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Adults: Diagnosis and Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Primary Care. Feb 2008.