That Gut Feeling: Understanding IBS

Charlene Grosse, IBS Dietitian Perth

If you are experiencing lower abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, distension, wind and/or irregular bowel patterns (constipation, diarrhoea or alternating periods of both) and it is affecting your life you are not alone. One in seven Australians suffer from Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common disorder of the gut (small and large intestines) that involves problems with movement of digested food through the intestines (motility) and how the brain interprets signals from the intestinal nerves (sensitivity). IBS is a problem that can affect all aspects of a person’s life from diet, education, work, personal and social relationships, travel, self-image and psychological well-being.

Do I have IBS?

If you are experiencing gut symptoms it is important that other gastrointestinal diseases are ruled out by a medical practitioner as the symptoms can be the same for many gut disorders.

Common medical conditions that affect the functioning of our gut are:

• Coeliac disease
• Inflammatory bowel disease (Chron’s, Ulcerative Colitis)
• Bowel cancer
• Diverticular disease

These diseases can have similar symptoms to IBS, however they need different treatment plans.

What causes IBS?

While no one knows the exact underlying cause of IBS the symptoms may be due to increased sensitivity to the function of the bowel. This can be responsible for discomfort, and abnormal contractions in the bowel muscle.

Certain factors can ‘trigger’ attacks in susceptible individuals. These include:

  1. Infection – following an episode of gastroenteritis – cause is unknown
  2. Food intolerance – impaired absorption of some natural sugars including lactose, sorbitol and fructose may trigger IBS
  3. General diet – low fibre diets can exacerbate constipation in some with IBS
  4. Stress – in people susceptible anxiety or stress can affect the nerves in the bowel
  5. Medications – eg antibiotics, pain killers) can lead to constipation or diarrhoea

My Doctor says I have IBS – Now what?

IBS is diagnosed based on the length of time you have been experiencing the symptoms, their severity and after testing and eliminating other gut disorders. IBS does not damage the structure of the gut or increase your risk of gut disease. IBS is an ‘invisible disease’ but none the less makes its presence known.

The good news is that this syndrome can be successfully managed through dietary changes. Research indicates that the low FODMAP diet can improve symptom control in 75% of people that suffer from IBS. The low FODMAP diet is not appropriate for healthy individuals who do not suffer from gastrointestinal issues.

The low FODMAP diet is a specialised area of nutrition, therefore it is important to see an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) that is trained in this area. Before booking your appointment with a dietitian ask them what FODMAP training and experience they have to make sure they can help you on your journey to a happy healthy gut.

by Charlene Grosse
Accredited Practising Dietitian

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