The facts about IBS: The causes, the symptoms and the treatments

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It's Irritable Bowel Syndrome awareness month, so here's what you need to know...

Stomach pain IBS

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Loads us suffer with bouts of tummy trouble every now and then, but what should you do when the situation becomes a persistent problem? In recognition of National Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Month we've asked the experts to give us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about tricky tums...

What actually is IBS?

GP Dr. Wendy Denning, explains, "Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a sporadic and unpredictable disruption of the digestive system. Everyone suffers the odd upset, but if you regularly experience painful abdominal spasms, bloating, or attacks of constipation or diarrhoea, then you could be suffering from IBS."

Why is this HAPPENING TO ME!!

Dr. Denning, says: "Doctors are not exactly sure what causes IBS, and symptoms can vary in type, frequency and severity from person to person. However the condition can be painful, embarrassing and inconvenient to deal with."

IBS occurs when the nerves and muscles of the bowel are not working properly. The bowel can become extra sensitive to pain and easily or frequently upset, and, unfortunately, IBS is a chronic condition – often recurring after long periods of calm.

What are the symptoms to watch out for?

• Abdominal pain and cramping – often relieved by emptying your bowels
• A change in your bowel habits – such a diarrhoea, constipation, or both
• Bloating and swelling of your abdomen
• Excessive wind
• An urgent need to go to the toilet
• A feeling that you need to open your bowels even if you have just been to the toilet
• A feeling you have not fully emptied your bowels

How many people have it?

IBS is more common that you might think, with 15-20% of the population (particularly women aged 20-24) experiencing issues. 25-50% of all hospital gastroenterology appointments are for IBS and studies have shown that two thirds of sufferers have at least one food intolerance. Now doctors are suggesting that sufferers keep a food diary before popping pills to try and isolate any foods that might be causing digestive distress.

If you're feeling lousy, just remember that you're not alone! Over 50% of IBS sufferers have to miss work because of the condition, while one quarter of 24-34-year-old patients need to take a whole month off.

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How can I sort my stomach out and get rid of IBS?

The YorkTest IBS Diet Programme measures your reaction to more than 158 different food and drink ingredients. This new programme is specifically designed for IBS sufferers to help reveal intolerances and create a diet plan that fits around your individual needs.

• Start stocking up on probiotics, like yoghurt drinks with 'good for you' live cultures that support and maintain the healthy bacteria in your gut.

• Stay hydrated with eight glasses of water per day. If you have IBS with diarrhoea, you may find it helps to cut down on the insoluble fibre you eat, including wholegrain bread, bran, cereals and nuts and seeds. But if you have IBS with constipation, increasing the amount of soluble fibre in your diet like fruit, vegetables and oats may help.

• Work on reducing your overall stress levels to reduce the occurance of IBS symptoms. Staying organised at work, getting plenty of sleep and avoiding difficult situations may help to reduce flare-ups.

• Exercising regularly and staying healthy are the key to limiting IBS - stick to three 30 minute sessions three times a week.

• An amino acid called Glutamine helps lots of people with IBS because it protects the mucus membranes inside the large intestine. This protects the body from harmful bacteria which can seep through damaged intestinal walls into the bloodstream. Fish oils are also thought to protect the body, especially in women, although more research is being done in this area.

• There are lots of different types of medications and psychological therapies available. To find out more visit the NHS website, here.

How do you cope with your IBS symptoms?

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