Have you been diagnosed with - or even suspect that you have - Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
IBS is a complex and somewhat ambiguous condition which affects a significant number of us and encompasses a broad variety of challenging symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, constipation or(/and!) diarrhoea, impinging on our quality of life.
Sadly, it’s common to bear this burden under the impression that there isn’t much we can do- even to the point where we plan our lives around it, restrict what we enjoy (both food and experiences) and wind up feeling like we’re missing out on opportunities and freedoms due to the plethora of bothersome digestive blips- and sometimes the occasional catastrophe.
What is IBS?
From a conventional perspective, it’s causes, and origins are very poorly understood, and solutions are limited.
It might come as a surprise to learn that IBS in itself is technically a ‘cluster of symptoms’ which fall under the same umbrella if all other diagnoses have been excluded, and is by definition, not a disease on its own.
A disease typically has a definitive cause, as well as specific symptom picture, and corresponding treatment options, whereas a syndrome is a blanket term for a collection of symptoms which have no current known single cause once other potential explanations have been ruled out.
So IBS is Actually A Clue, Not The Target- Now What?
Despite some pretty fabulous uncertainty that may be felt on initial diagnosis, there are often common themes and underlying drivers contributing to IBS symptoms which may come to dominate our workdays and social lives. By becoming aware of these factors, the process of understanding symptoms can become significantly less daunting.
Things to Consider
Managing IBS is multi-faceted, and whilst symptoms can vary wildly between individuals, IBS is ultimately a sign that there is dysfunction on a deeper level that needs to be acknowledged and addressed.
Dysbiosis (the fancy term for gut-bug imbalance) such as Small Intestinal Bacterial (SIBO) Overgrowth, or in any form, can wreak havoc on digestive health and is being recognised as a key driver in many IBS cases.
Dietary factors (think food allergy/intolerance, or issues with FODMAPs, for example), digestive dysfunction (such as poor enzyme production), stress, a history of food poisoning (or other gastrointestinal infection!), as well as other factors including certain medications, thyroid function and genetics can all play a role in the big picture.
The takeaway? IBS itself may not be the problem. Rather, it may be a clue from your body, prompting a deeper dive into understanding what the causes and key drivers are for your digestive symptoms.
Don't just settle for an IBS diagnosis from your GP, keep searching for a practitioner who can take things further, so that you can get tp the root cause of the symptoms.
Other articles on gut health, bloating and IBS
Lovell RM, Ford AC. Global prevalence of and risk factors for irritable bowel syndrome: a meta-analysis. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2012 Jul
Lin, L., Zhang, J. Role of intestinal microbiota and metabolites on gut homeostasis and human diseases. BMC Immunol 18, 2 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12865-016-0187-3
Klem F, Wadhwa A, Prokop LJ, et al. Prevalence, Risk Factors, and Outcomes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome After Infectious Enteritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Gastroenterology. 2017;152(5):1042-1054.e1. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2016.12.039
Gibson PR, Shepherd SJ. Evidence-based dietary management of functional gastrointestinal symptoms: The FODMAP approach. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2010;25(2):252-258. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1746.2009.06149.x