1) How do I know if I have IBS?
If you are experiencing IBS symptoms like constipation, flatulence and stomach pain, a trip to see your GP is the best way to find out if you have the condition or not. Here your doctor will ask questions like:
- What are your symptoms?
- How often do you get them?
- Do they come and go?
- When do you get them?
- How long have you had the symptoms for?
They may then check your tummy for lumps and swelling and, if necessary, they’ll order further investigations like a blood test or a stool test, just to rule out any other possible causes for your symptoms.
If you are a little anxious about visiting your doctor to discuss what can feel like a very personal issue, I’d recommend you write answers to the questions listed above before you go. This will prepare you a little for the visit and will also ensure that you don’t forget something when you’re there.
2) How common is IBS?
It is estimated that 10 million people in the UK suffer from IBS and in the world’s population as a whole, 1 in 5 people will suffer from IBS at some point in their lives. So, this would suggest that IBS is a very common condition!
It is generally agreed that although men do get IBS, it is more prevalent amongst women. This may be as a result of hormonal differences between the two sexes as during the menopause and menstruation for example, oestrogen and progesterone are released which can trigger IBS symptoms.1
3) Is IBS permanent?
IBS is a long-term condition that can usually be managed through changes to diet and lifestyle, as well as through herbal remedies and traditional medicines. Nevertheless, many people will find that they get their IBS symptoms under control using these methods only to find they crop up again months and sometimes years later. So, symptoms are long-lasting, though for some they do fluctuate considerably in terms of severity.
4) Does diet make symptoms worse?
Diet definitely has a part to play in IBS as certain foods have the potential to both bring on symptoms, and make them worse. IBS varies from person to person so the problem foods differ for each individual too. However, some common problematic ones include:
- Gluten – this includes grains such as wheat, rye and barley
- Lactose – this is a natural sugar this is found in dairy products such as milk
- Sugar – this feeds the bad strains of bacteria in your gut, allowing them to thrive and so in this way they contribute to IBS symptoms
- Alcohol - this contributes to IBS flare ups in the same way that sugar does
- Acidic foods and drinks – this includes fizzy juice and even tomatoes!
- Caffeine - this triggers your ‘fight or flight’ reaction which takes the focus off your digestive system. This means you are more likely to experience symptoms such as diarrhoea as your gut contractions become uncoordinated.
If you are unsure which food or drink is contributing to your IBS symptoms I’d recommend you keep a food diary for a couple of weeks. By recording what you eat and how you feel, you’ll be able to rule certain food and drinks out (or in) as the cause of your IBS symptoms.
5 - Is stress linked to IBS?
Although it is not known what exactly causes IBS, it is widely agreed that stress could have a part to play in the development of symptoms because stress can make us more sensitive to pain. For some these IBS symptoms will ease when the stress has been taken away - once you get comfortable in a new job for example, or after moving house. However, for others stress is a more permanent feature in their lives and so in this case IBS becomes more long-lasting.
If you’re struggling with both IBS and stress you may be wondering what to do about the situation. Your first step should be to minimize the amount of stress in your life but how you go about this will depend on what the problem is. If you have too much going on at work for example, it’s time to speak to your colleagues about how you feel. They won’t be able to change anything unless they know how you feel!
You could also turn to AvenaCalm, A.Vogel's licensed herbal remedy for mild stress and anxiety. Made from the avena sativa plant, this is a gentle remedy that can be used to soothe symptoms of mild distress.
6) What can I do about my IBS?
In order to control your IBS, there are a few things you can do.
Drink lots of water
For a variety of reasons, water is essential when you’re suffering from IBS. It could help with symptoms like constipation because it softens stools to help return movements to normal. If diarrhoea is problematic though, drinking lots of water will keep you hydrated. Plus, water could dilute digestive juices to reduce the effects of indigestion. Therefore, I’d recommend that you drink water throughout the day but take a little break in the half hour before and after eating
This is a liquid gel which is taken orally to ease IBS symptoms like nausea, flatulence, stomach pain, bowel discomfort and diarrhoea. Silicol gel contains silicic acid which works by lining the stomach and intestines, then binding with toxins and pathogens to facilitate their safe removal from the body.
This has been a lifesaver at times, can’t recommend enough. If you suffer from bouts of IBS/tum upsets this will soon sort it.
Chewing your food and eating slowly are some additional steps that may help IBS symptoms. Eating slowly means you are less likely to overeat which could put strain on the stomach whilst if food is smaller, it is more easily digested.
7) Does exercise help?
Getting a regular amount of exercise is beneficial in many ways but it could also prove useful for IBS sufferers, provided you don’t do anything too strenuous! The link between IBS symptoms and exercise isn’t completely clear but it is known that exercise releases the feel-good hormone serotonin which is known to influence mood. This hormone is abundant in the gut and so it seems symptoms in this area, mood and exercise are all linked.