Let's Talk IBS
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS for short, is a chronic, functional gastrointestinal disorder that is estimated to affect 1 in 10 people around the world. Despite how common IBS is, the symptoms, more often than not, cause embarrassment and shame to sufferers and as a result, it’s a subject that isn’t often spoken about. So, let’s talk IBS!
There is no clear cause of IBS – it is multifactorial, with no physiological or biochemical explanation. This means that although it cannot be seen, it is most definitely felt. Factors believed to be linked to IBS are; gut sensitivity, altered gut motility, an imbalance between the good and bad gut bacteria, ‘leaky gut’ and infections (i.e. gastroenteritis). Genetic factors are also thought to play a role, as well as diet sensitivities (e.g. high FODMAPs) and stress exposure. Stress is of particular importance, due to the role of the gut-brain axis in maintaining the pathways of communication and controlling the movement of the gut, which is necessary for healthy digestion.
Symptoms of IBS present differently in everyone. Symptoms include: abdominal pain and discomfort, constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, abdominal distension, excessive flatulence and fatigue. When diagnosed with IBS, patients are classified as one of three subtypes: IBS with predominant constipation, IBS with predominant diarrhoea or mixed IBS. These symptoms significantly affect quality of life and can lead to feelings of shame and embarrassment. This can cause more stress and as a result further exacerbate symptoms! As a result, IBS sufferers do not feel comfortable and find their symptoms dictate their everyday activities such as work, exercise and relationships. Significant financial burden can also be placed on the individual due to absence from work, as well as ongoing healthcare costs.
So, what should you do if you suspect you have IBS? The most important thing to do is to get a correct diagnosis. This is important not only to allow symptoms to be managed and improve quality of life, but also to rule out other conditions that share similar symptoms like Coeliac Disease or Endometriosis. Diagnosis is made using the Rome IV criteria, which is a symptom-based classification system that assesses ‘chronic symptoms’ – symptoms that have been present at least one day a week for at least six months.
If you’re looking for support and assistance in managing your symptoms, see a dietitian who specialises in IBS management.
A note on the author
Hey I’m Abby! I’m a third year Dietetics student studying at the University of the Sunshine Coast. You can follow me at my Instagram @nutritionbyabby where I post simple, evidence-based dietary information, tips and tricks.