Removing the stigma around Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
April is Irritable Bowel Awareness Month. The aim this year is to remove the stigma around IBS,
IBS can be a life-long condition which can affect people every day of their lives. Because many people don’t know how IBS impacts people, those with it can feel unsupported and misunderstood.
What you need to know
To help, we’ll run through what IBS is, the symptoms and causes, what can help, and when to see a Doctor.
You can read through below or skip to different sections using the buttons.
IBS is the most common condition that affects our digestive system. Around 1 in 20 people in the UK have been diagnosed with IBS. But the number of people who experience symptoms at some point in life could be as high as 1 in 3.
If you have IBS, there is a disruption in how your digestive system works, which can lead to stomach pain and unpredictable bowel habits.
Part of the stigma around IBS is because it involves talking about poo. Everybody does it, but because we’re not always comfortable talking about it, it can be isolating for people with problems.
Common symptoms are:
- Stomach pain
- Bloating (stomach feeling bigger than usual)
- Lots of flatulence (farting)
- Needing the toilet a lot, suddenly or not feeling like you’ve finished
People with IBS can experience any of these symptoms or a combination of all of them.
There isn’t a single cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but there are a few factors that contribute to it or can make it worse:
- Muscles in your colon contracting either too fast or too slow
- The bacteria in your gut
- Certain things you have eaten or drunk
- Inflammation in your colon or intestine
- Stress, anxiety, or depression
- Side-effects of medications
While IBS is not pleasant, it’s important to know that it doesn’t do any lasting damage to your digestive tract. It doesn’t make you any more likely to get other, more severe bowel conditions, either.
IBS is a chronic condition, meaning there isn’t a cure, and it tends to be a life-long illness for people with it.
The good news is that some dietary and lifestyle changes, possibly alongside medication, can make life much more normal and manageable for people.
Here are some general suggestions of what to do and what to avoid.
- homecooked meals with fresh ingredients
- relax and practice mindfulness
- keep a diary of what you eat and when you get symptoms.
- delay or skip meals
- eat too quickly
- eats lots of fatty, processed or spicy food,
- have more than three portions of fresh fruit a day
- have more than three teas or coffees a day
- drink lots of alcohol or fizzy drinks
And here’s what to do to help with specific symptoms:
|Bloating/Cramps/Wind||Eating oats or porridge or linseeds regularly|
Avoid hard-to-digest food like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, sprouts, beans, onions or dried fruit.
Avoid sweeteners like sorbitol
Ask a Pharmacist about Buscopan or peppermint oil
|Diarrhoea||Cut down on high-fibre foods like brown bread or rice, nuts and seeds|
Avoid sorbitol sweetener
Ask a Pharmacist about medication like Immodium
Avoid dehydration by drinking lots of water
|Constipation||Drink lots of water to soften your poo|
Eat more soluble fibre – oats, pulses, carrots, linseeds and peeled potatoes.
Ask a Pharmacist about laxatives like Fybogel.
When to see a GP
It is important to see a GP if your symptoms get worse or change.
For example, unexpected weight loss or a change in bowel habits lasting more than four weeks. Or if your symptoms are interfering with your everyday life and steps to manage them aren’t working.
A GP can help diagnose and manage your symptoms. They might also think about other tests to rule out other causes or illnesses.