IBS – It’s not all in your head!

18th September 2020

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a very common digestive disorder affecting nearly 1 in 20 of the UK population, which is around 3.2 million individuals. With this in mind, you’ll probably know multiple people with IBS!

What are the symptoms?

IBS is a disorder in the gut-brain axis (the way the gut and the brain communicate with one another). The symptoms are abdominal pain or discomfort, diarrhoea, constipation or a mixture of both. Approximately one third of those with IBS suffer from bouts of constipation, one third suffer from bouts of diarrhoea and most other people don’t fall into a single pattern. Other symptoms include bloating and urgency. IBS affects more women than men, affecting all ethnicities.

What treatment is available?

Treatments are very individual, as they vary depending on symptoms. They can include medications, diet and lifestyle factors. It’s important to work alongside your doctor on what treatments you would like to try. But remember, IBS symptoms are individual, so what works for one person might not always work for another. The most important factor is to learn as much as you can about what is available to try.

Alarm Symptoms

These symptoms are not usually associated with IBS but may be associated with other diseases. If you experience any of these you should see your doctor as soon as possible, even if you have already been diagnosed with IBS and are finding symptoms have changed:

  • A persistent change of bowel habit for 4 weeks or longer, especially if you are over the age of 40
  • Passing blood from the back passage
  • Unintentional weight loss of more than 2kg (4 pounds) over a short period of time.
  • Diarrhoea waking you from sleep
  • Fever

The need to see a doctor is especially important if there is a family history of bowel disease (such as cancer, colitis or Crohn’s disease).

Busting the myths

IBS is all in your head!

No, this is not true. Symptoms are very real and can be distressing. The gut and brain are a two-way communication system that ‘talk’ to each other very often. Examples of this are feeling hungry – gut talking to brain, or feeling butterflies in the stomach, brain talking to gut. These are normal communications. However sometimes these two organs overshare information and because people with IBS have an overly sensitive gut (visceral hypersensitivity) this can result in symptoms.

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