“Take control of your IBS don’t let it control you”
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic and relapsing bowel disorder that can affect up to 20% of adults and adolescents as well as children. It is 1.5 times more common in women than in men. Symptoms include:
- abdominal pain
- poor appetite
It is important to note that many conditions have symptoms that can mimic IBS such as inflammatory bowel disease, coeliac disease and microscopic colitis. It is important that the diagnosis of IBS has been carried out, coeliac disease has been out-ruled and alarm features are absent.
Many people have had symptoms of IBS all their lives and done nothing about it, putting it down to having “a sensitive tummy”. As a Dietitian, I would estimate 60 – 70% of my patients suffer with IBS, some that come to a dietitian for a different reason and drop it into conversation when discussing their diet. People wonder how it has become so much more common these days, but when asked about their family history many report one or both of their parents have avoided a food for years at it “doesn’t agree with them”.
The truth is, more people feel comfortable discussing their digestive health and doing something about it. People live busy lives that can often be stressful and many are now more conscious of their diet and looking after their health. I have seen patients with such severe symptoms it has a huge impact on their quality of life; unable to attend work, fear of getting public transport, avoiding social activities or not sleeping at night as a result. Why live with something like this when symptoms can be managed effectively?
The exact cause of IBS is not known and it is thought to be multifactorial. Suggested causes may be; a previous gastrointestinal infection, prolonged antibiotic use, stress, medication, alcohol, poor diet and lifestyle factors. Two thirds of IBS patients perceive their symptoms are related to food. Symptoms can come and go and may be exacerbated in stressful situations which can make it difficult to identify the exact triggers.
So how do people go about managing their symptoms of IBS?
- Medical management using anti-diarrhoeals, anti-spasmodics, laxatives or low dose antidepressants
- Self-help – 7% treat themselves with no medical supervision
- Herbal remedies
- Psychological guidance
- Lifestyle changes
- Dietary guidance
Diet assessment and adjustment by a qualified dietitian is so important in the management of IBS. Many patients prefer dietary management rather than a reliance on medication. As a dietitian specialising in digestive health, it is very rewarding to see a patients’ symptoms improve when they have received guidance on diet, meal pattern, lifestyle factors and stress management. Some may immediately feel an improvement after increasing fibre in the diet, increasing fluid and introducing exercise. Others may find eliminating certain foods beneficial or the use of a probiotic.
There is a growing interest in restriction of short chain fermentable carbohydrates called FODMAPs (fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, mono-saccharides and polyols….a mouthful I know!) for IBS management. The low FODMAP diet is an exclusion diet specifically for patients with IBS which has been supported by 30 clinical studies. Research has shown that limiting these foods (high in FODMAPS) can alleviate the symptoms associated with IBS. The low FODMAP diet should be done under the supervision of a dietitian as exclusion diets are at risk of nutritional inadequacy.
If you feel you could benefit from seeing a dietitian in relation to digestive health or any other dietary issue contact Caoimhe McDonald at Personal Health who has worked with patients with IBS for years and can help you identify the triggers for your IBS and provide meal suggestions, recipes and shopping lists to make sure your diet is still balanced and you are getting all the nutrients you need.
Diet is not always the cause-it can be just one contributing factor to IBS. For many stress management may be the best solution. Personal Health also has a Psychotherapist Susan Duffy who specialises in stress management which may be the answer for you.
Contact the Personal Health team to make an appointment with Consultant Dietitian Caoimhe McDonald or Psychotherapist Susan Duffy on 01 4964002.