Shining a Light on IBS Awareness Month


Shining a Light on IBS Awareness Month

April marks Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month, dedicating 30 days to raising awareness about this common, yet misunderstood, disorder of gut-brain interaction (DGBI). It is estimated that 10-23% of adults worldwide suffer with IBS1, including an estimated 13 million individuals in the UK.2  IBS can disrupt the daily lives of those affected and can become very difficult to live with.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

IBS is a chronic disorder of the gut-brain interaction. This means that there is no structural abnormality or specific abnormal biological markers in the gut leading to its’ onset, but instead it is a functional disorder with no clear cause.

Symptoms of IBS

Symptoms of IBS can vary from gas and bloating to diarrhoea and constipation, with such symptoms fluctuating in severity over time. This makes it a very difficult disorder to effectively diagnose and manage.4 According to NICE guidelines, IBS ought to be diagnosed based on exclusion of other disorders (e.g., bowel cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, ovarian cancer) with similar symptoms.5

  • Abdominal pain: this may be sharp, dull, or achy, and may vary in intensity and location.
  • Bloating and gas: distension of the abdomen, often accompanied by the passage of excessive gas.
  •  Changes in bowel habits: alterations in the frequency, consistency, or appearance of bowel movements.
  •  Urgency: feeling a sudden urge to pass stool.
  •  Mucus in the stool: presence of a jelly-like mucus in the stool, which may be indicative of irritation in the digestive tract.

 Possible Causes of IBS3,6

As mentioned above, the exact cause of IBS remains unclear, but several factors are believed to contribute to its development. This includes:

  • Gut-brain axis dysfunction: the interaction between the gut and the brain plays a significant role in the onset of IBS, with stress often exacerbating symptoms.
  •  Inflammation: low-grade inflammation in the intestines may contribute to symptoms in some individuals.
  •  Changes to the gut microbiota: the gut microbiota (collection of microbes living in the gut) of individuals with IBS tends to differ to those who don’t have IBS. However, this remains under-researched.
  •  Abnormal gastrointestinal muscle contractions: abnormal muscle contractions in the intestinal wall can lead to IBS symptoms. This is because gut motility is affected. For example, contractions that are stronger and last longer can cause gas, bloating and diarrhoea, whereas weak contractions can slow food passage and lead to hard, dry stools.
  •  Visceral hypersensitivity: this refers to the heightened sensitivity and reduced pain threshold felt in internal organs. This is common for those with DGBIs such as IBS.

 Managing IBS Symptoms

The appropriate treatment of IBS is somewhat unclear. There is no single diet or medicine that works for all IBS sufferers – there really is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating IBS. However, the NHS outlines some key ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ for alleviating symptoms6:

 

Do Don’t
Cook homemade meals using fresh ingredients

 

Delay or skip meals
Monitor eating habits and any other symptoms with a food diary*

 

Eat too quickly
Find ways to relax and unwind to reduce symptoms triggered by stress

 

Eat high quantities of fatty, spicy or processed foods
Get plenty of exercise

 

Drink more than 3 cups of tea or coffee per day

 

Try probiotics for 1 month and see if they help relieve symptoms

 

Drink excessive quantities of alcohol and fizzy drinks

*Download the Love Your Gut ‘Food, Mood & Symptoms Diary’ to start monitoring your eating habits

You can also find out more about The IBS Network’s Selfcare Plan here: https://www.theibsnetwork.org/the-self-care-programme/

Alternative Approaches to Managing IBS

Given that IBS is now classed as a DGBI, there is a greater focus being placed on treatment surrounding de-stressing and mindfulness. A recent review of the research found that yoga can significantly decrease bowel symptoms, overall IBS severity, and anxiety levels in IBS patients.7Although more evidence is needed in this area, the current findings are promising.

How to Support IBS Awareness Month

Whether you have IBS or not, it is important to raise awareness and educate others about the difficulties of this misunderstood condition to help reduce the stigma surrounding it. Where possible, connect with individuals who are living with IBS and offer them your support and understanding. This might be through support groups/online networks (such as The IBS Network), or even having a chat with a friend, family member or colleague. You could also encourage funding for research into the causes and treatments of IBS as the better the understanding of the condition, the better the management options can be. If you are an IBS sufferer, dedicate this month to prioritising stress management, embracing quiet and mindful moments, and engaging in regular physical activity.

For further information see:

By raising awareness, promoting understanding, and offering support to sufferers of IBS, we can help these individuals to feel empowered and supported in managing their symptoms. Let’s use IBS Awareness Month as an opportunity to educate, advocate, and foster a community of support for those living with this challenging condition.

References

[1] Zhang, T., Ma, X., Tian, W., Zhang, J., Wei, Y., Zhang, B., Wang, F. and Tang, X., 2022. Global research trends in irritable bowel syndrome: a bibliometric and visualized study. Frontiers in Medicine9, p.922063.
[2] NHS England. Remote monitoring of patients with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, IBS and food intolerances, NHS choices. Available at: https://transform.england.nhs.uk/key-tools-and-info/digital-playbooks/gastroenterology-digital-playbook/remote-monitoring-of-patients-with-small-intestinal-bacterial-overgrowth-IBS-and-food-intolerances/  (Accessed: 06 March 2024).
[3] Chey, W.D., Kurlander, J. and Eswaran, S., 2015. Irritable bowel syndrome: a clinical review. Jama313(9), pp.949-958.
[4] Hahn, B., Watson, M., Yan, S., Gunput, D. and Heuijerjans, J., 1998. Irritable bowel syndrome symptom patterns: frequency, duration, and severity. Digestive diseases and sciences43, pp.2715-2718.
[5] NICE (2008). Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/conditions-and-diseases/digestive-tract-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome (Accessed: 06 March 2024).
[6] NHS England (2023) Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), NHS inform. Available at: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/stomach-liver-and-gastrointestinal-tract/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs/ (Accessed: 06 March 2024).
[7] Schumann, D., Anheyer, D., Lauche, R., Dobos, G., Langhorst, J. and Cramer, H., 2016. Effect of yoga in the therapy of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology14(12), pp.1720-1731.

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